Monday, May 31, 2010

Youth Baseball: Great Fields, Great Memories

Great baseball fields make great memories.

The community of Noblesville, Indiana which is about 7 miles north of Indianpolis has developed an awesome youth baseball venue. They have eight beautifully maintained fields with fences and lights. The facility also houses one of the best concession stands that I have ever seen at a youth baseball facility. They serve a large menu of food and drinks (non-alcoholic) for nominal prices. Between games, I bought 2 hamburgers, 2 hot dogs and 4 drinks for the family. I handed the concession stand worker $20 and got back $5. At a MLB stadium, I would be lucky to get back anything after handling over $50 for a similar order. It was such a pleasant surprise.

The actual fields at the Noblesville facility are very unique. The outfield area is grass, but infields are made of field turf. There is no dirt anywhere on the field. The home plate area and the areas around each base are clay colored field turf. I was concerned that kids could be injured while sliding when I first saw the field, but the kids slid over the turf very easily. My son slid head first very smoothly into second base on a steal. He came up grimacing with turf burns on his arms, but I guess it didn't hurt too much because he stole third and slid head first again.

Two years ago at this same facility my son, Nic, got his 100th career hit for the club. He was in a battle with a teammate to be the first one to get 100 career hits for the club. An elbow injury early in that year cost my son some games and made the race closer than it should have been. His teammate got his 100th hit in game one of a doubleheader on Noblesville field 8. In the second game of the double header on the same field, Nic notched his 100th hit.

Games 61, 62, 63, 64 and 65

Two years later on Noblesville field 6, Nic hit his first "over the fence" home run. He has lots of "hit'em and run" home runs, but never experienced the joy of hitting one over a fence. He crushed a 2-1 fastball to dead center field and cleared the 225 foot fences easily. He ran around the bases in record time and jumped high into the air and landed on the plate surrounded by his teammates. The 3 run homer in the bottom of the last inning with two outs gave the team hope. Unfortunately, the rally did not last and fortunately for Nic didn't get hurt celebrating at home. The night before Kendry Morales of the Los Angeles Angels hit a walk-off homer then broke his leg as he jumped onto home plate surrounded by his teammates.

The slump may be coming to an end. My son, Nic, batted .385 with 4 RBIs and 6 Runs scored in the tournament. .385 is well under his lifetime average it was an encouraging sign. His team won 2 of 3 pool play games and got the 8th seed in the 15 team tournament. They ended up beating the 9th seed in the first elimination round and then lost to the number 1 team. It was a great tournament.

The Main Point

The people of Noblesville made a great facility where great life long memories are made. I know my son will never forget this field. I know from experience.

When I played little league, we rarely had an opportunity to play on a field with a fence. Gumpert Park in Westfield NJ had three fields. Two fields without fences and one field with a fence. Gumpert 1 was the field with the fence. I loved playing on that field. At 12, I hit a ball over the fence down the line on Gumpter One. I saw the ball fly high above the fence and into the branches and leaves of the trees beyond it. As I rounded first, I heard the umpire yell foul ball. I didn't want to believe it so I continued on and rounded second, the umpire yelled foul ball again. I looked at my dad, who was the third base coach, he was already pleading my case. The umpired yelled foul ball again. I didn't get a homer, but I still remember that hit and that field. As a teenager I played lacrosse so I would not get my first "over the fence" home run until I played adult softball.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Youth Baseball: Pain and Suffering of Catching

The baseball season grinds on and an injury to my son reminds me of my youth.

Game 59

I watched the game from the stands with the mother of a son who was seriously injured by a line drive last year. While my son is working hard to overcome a prolonged slump, her son is working hard to walk normally again.

In the first inning, my son threw out another base stealer, his 10th of the year. He looked at me with pride in his eyes. In the second inning, a foul ball hit the bottom of his All Star Catching mask. I guess the mask was not fully secure because the mask turned upon impact and the ball got hit my son in the throat. My son fell to the ground immediately and was struggling to breathe. The coaching staff ran onto the field to tend to my son. The mother of the injured player yelled for me to call 911, she  knows that time is critical with serious injuries. I took out my iphone ready to dial.

I asked the coach if I needed to make the call. He held up his hand telling me to wait. I had a flash back to my high school lacrosse days.

I cut toward the goal, the center middie threw me a perfect pass. I caught the ball and was immediately decked with a cross check to my throat. My feet continued forward as my head hit the ground. I remember staring up at the clouds while grasping for air as panic set in. 

My son started to calm down and breathe normally. His neck hurt for a few days, but it turns out that like my situation, the panic was worse than the pain.

The Main Point

Committed dads feel all the frustrations, the joy and the pain that their kids experience in sports. Try to limit the pain by making sure that your kids sports equipment fits properly and is in good working condition.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Youth Soccer: The Differences Between Select (Travel) and Recreational Soccer

Are you trying to decide between recreational soccer and select soccer? I am a D licensed soccer coach with years of experience coaching both recreational and select soccer teams. Here are the major differences between recreational and club select soccer.

1) Training Select soccer players typically get better training. Training is conducted by paid licensed coaches. However please note, select soccer does not automatically guarantee quality training. You need to know the credentials of the coach and / or trainer before you commit your money to a club. Ask the trainer if he / she has a license to coach or what experience he / she has? Recreational soccer is usually coached by volunteer parents who may participate in a short pre-season coaching clinic or given links to coaching tips on line.

2) Better players to compete with and against If you believe that your kid will only get better by playing with and against better players, then select is probably the right place for your child. However please note, select soccer does not automatically guarantee strong teammates and competition. Large regional select soccer clubs will typically have several levels within each age group, Premier (1st Division), 2nd division, 3rd division, etc. I can tell you that the 4th and 5th level teams in most clubs are not strong. If you looking to club soccer for stronger competition to challenge your kid you may actually find better competition in a recreational league verses the lower divisions of a select club. Why? Select typically requires a year round commitment and there are many good athletes who do not want to make that commitment because they want to play other sports too. These multi-sport athletes playing rec soccer are often better than the full time soccer players playing on a 4th or 5th division club team.

3) More Games The big difference between select and rec is the tournament schedule. A typical select team will play in a preseason, mid-season and post season tournament in addition to the regular season games. Recreational teams usually play in one single elimination tournament at the end of the season. A typical select tournament guarantees three games so a select team may play 6 to 9 more games per season than a rec team, but these extra games are completed in 2 or 3 weekends. Select soccer does not automatically mean more practice. Most clubs hold practices two times per week.

Please note: There are several levels within select programs too, when kids get older the best kids may compete in ODP, CUP and Super Regional leagues. These are very serious leagues with lots of games, practices and travel.

4) Select soccer is a year-round commitment. Typically 20 games in the fall, 10 indoor games before Christmas, 10 indoor games after Christmas, 20 games in the spring. This is my biggest issue with soccer. If you want your kid to advance in soccer and play in HS, your child will most likely need to play on a select team year round from the age of 9 to high school. Why? Because that is what the competition for those coveted high school spots are doing.

5) Emphasis on winning - Good sportsmanship and fun are promoted in recreational leagues and players are guaranteed to play 50% of every game. All teams are randomly selected and there is no attempt to separate the better and experienced players from the new players. While good sportsmanship and fun are a goal for select soccer coaches too, select soccer is more competitive. They have tryouts and some players may be cut. Playing time is not guaranteed and there is a stronger emphasis on winning games. In our select league, there are eight teams in each division (Premier - first division, 2nd Division, 3rd Division, etc.) The top two teams in each division move up and the bottom two teams in each division move down. A club's status is based on how many teams they have in the upper divisions, so they emphasize winning.

6) Cost - Select soccer can cost anywhere from $600 per year to $2600 per year (even more for CUP). Recreational soccer costs about $70 per year.

The Main Point

Select soccer is not for everyone,

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Youth Baseball: Bats, Wood or Aluminum?

In 1924, a patent was issued for the first metal baseball bat, but metal bats were not used until Worth introduced the first aluminum baseball bat in 1970. I was a little league player in the early 70's and I vividly remember when kids around the league started to use them. By the mid 70's every team had at least one aluminum bat for players to share.

Metal bats became very popular when Easton introduced a better and stronger aluminum bat in the late 70's. That is when I got my first aluminum bat. I remember it like it was yesterday, it was gold with black letters. When the bat met the ball it sounded different, but I don't really remember it changing the game significantly for me.

Innovations continued as bat manufacturers realized there was a market for $300+ bats. In the early 1990's lighter and stronger bats made of titanium were introduced. Then bats with double wall construction and high tech composite materials were introduced. All of the innovations were designed to propel the ball faster and further. Of course parents anxious to see their kids succeed or at a minimum keep up with the Jones' keep buying the best and most expensive bats on the market. And the crack of the bat was forever replaced by the ping of a bat.

I didn't realize it until this past weekend, but baseball lost something in the process.

Arguments for high tech metal or composite bats
  • Better weight distribution with a center of gravity closer to the handle to make it easier to swing. 
  • Greater bat speed potential leads to more power to hit the ball harder, faster and further.
  • The Trampoline effect - the bat compresses on impact and then springs back pushing the ball forward.
  • Bigger sweet spot which is much more forgiving translates to more hits.
  • More durable - aluminum bats do not break as easy as wood.
  • Cost efficient. Metal or Composite bats can be much more expensive to buy compared to wood bats, but cost savings can be realized over time because they are more durable.
Arguments against high tech metal or composite bats
  • Greater bat speed potential leads to more power to hit the ball harder and faster and this puts the pitcher and other players in jeopardy of serious injury. Kids are getting seriously injured and even killed by batted balls that rocket off of the high tech bats.
  • Bigger sweet spot which is much more forgiving leads to more hits even against nasty pitches. There are lots of rules in place to limit the number of pitches a pitcher can throw in a week, a game or a tournament. These rules are in place to protect young arms. If wood bats were used, there would be less cheap hits and therefore less pitches required to get through an inning or game. Wood bats would save young arms.
  • Defense becomes more important. Games with wood bats are decided more on skill and less on technology. 
  • Strategy becomes important again. Manufacturing runs with bunts and "hit and run" plays become more viable options. Kids therefore learn the game more completely. 

The Main Point

After watching a wood bat tournament this past weekend, I have become a big fan of wood bats. A game played with wooden bats is pure baseball. It is baseball at its very best.

Games 52, 53, 54, 55

I just watched a great wood bat tournament this past weekend. It was baseball at its best. The eight best teams from the tri-state area converged to match skills not technology.

My son's team won 4-3 in extra innings, lost 1-0 in extra innings, won 7-6 in extra innings and then lost in the semi-finals. Pitchers pitched and fielders made plays. There were very few cheap hits. There were more bunts and situational hitting. It was really fun to watch.

Ironically enough, my son who has been in a prolonged slump hit a pop up 15 feet beyond second base. The second baseman got a late jump. The shortstop got a late jump and the centerfielder did not get a good read. As a result, the ball dropped in for a cheap hit. My son hustled right out of the box and slid into second base with a double. His coach didn't say a word about his hustle. The opposing coach yelled at his players, he said, "If you guys hustled half as much as that kid he would be out and not on second base. Nice hustle kid." Despite the long slump he continues to play with passion and I am proud of him.

The 1-0 loss was against our arch rival, the team that denied us a CABA World Series Championship by beating us in the finals 2 years ago. In the second inning, my son was up with a runner on third. His coach called for a suicide squeeze. My son put a perfect bunt down the first base line. The run scored and my son was safe at first with a single and an RBI, or so we thought.  The umpire called the ball foul. He claimed that he saw the ball hit my son's foot. I have video of the play and the ball was no where close to his foot. Nic's team would have won in regulation 1-0, but instead lost the game in extra innings 1-0. That is how it goes when a player is in a slump.

My son caught both games of the doubleheader on Saturday and the semi-final game on Sunday. He played flawlessly and threw out another base stealer. One of the dads from our team came up to me and said how impressed he is with Nic. Namely, that he does not take his hitting slump into the field with him.

I bought my son a Mad Dog bamboo bat prior to the tournament. My son loved it. Mad Dog Bats

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Youth Baseball: Home Run Broken Window

In all movies that feature kids playing baseball there is always a scene where a long home run is hit through the window of a crabby neighbor and everybody runs. Well, it happened this weekend for real.

As the 12 year old ball players started to warm up on a baseball field in Mills Park in Northern Kentucky, the home owner of the white house pictured below looked out her window. Her house happens to sit curiously close to the baseball field. The field has 200 foot fences and the base of the house is about 250 feet from home plate in left center field. I can only assume that the township tried to annex the property when the park was developed but lost in a court battle. It is the only house around.

When the home owner saw the freakishly big 12 year old kids on the field, she ran out of her house to confront the coach of one of the teams. She claimed that the park has a rule that that field is restricted to 10 year old or younger players.  The house is most definitely reachable for some 12 year old kids, especially 5' 9" and 190 pounds 12 year old kids who use supercharged composite / alloy bats. The coach, however, allayed the home owner fears. He told her that tournament that was about to start is a wood bat tournament.  The kids would be using wood bats only and therefore the ball would have little chance to travel that far.

The first game of the tournament on that field featured the two of the best teams from the region. (My son's team was playing on an adjacent field.) The two teams on the house field recruit the biggest and best players from the region. Players who are 12, but look more like 15. In the 4th inning of that game, there were 7 home runs hit. One of those home runs not only hit the house, but went through the 2nd story window. (See arrow). WOW.

The home owner ran out of the house and demanded a name and an address. The next day the tournament director covered the home owners sliding glass doors with padded tarps and the tournament continued.

The Main Point

12 year old kids can hit a baseball very far even with wood bats.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Youth Sports: Good Coach or Bad Coach, The Test

Hey coach do you remember which coaches influenced your life? I certainly do, almost ever single one of them. The good ones and the bad ones.

We remember them because they were a big part of our lives. They most definitely help mold our personalities. When you think about it, coaching is a serious responsibility.

So coach, how will you be remembered? Do you want to be the coach that who instills confidence or undermines it? Do you want to be the coach who develops players who advance in a sport, or the coach that drives players to quit?

Take the quiz to see what kind of coach you are. Or parents, take the quiz about your coach to see what kind of coach is influencing your child.

Write down the question number and record the letter answer. At the bottom of the quiz there is key to determine the status.

1) Tactical knowledge. A good coach knows the strategy of the game.
a) Very knowledgeable
b) Somewhat knowledgeable
c) Basic knowledge
d) Limited knowledge
e) Clueless

2) Rate your knowledge of the technical element of the sport - ability to teach skills / proper techanics
a) Very knowledgeable
b) Somewhat knowledgeable
c) Basic knowledge
d) Limited knowledge
e) Clueless

3) Rate ability to instill confidence in players
a) Very positive - Builds confidence in every kid regardless of ability.
b) Somewhat positive - Connects with most kids to build confidence.
c) Neutral - Usually instills confidence, but occasionally undermines it.
d) Somewhat negative -  Rarely instills confidence, more often than not undermines it.
e) Very negative - Undermines confidence until players leave the team or quit the sport.

4) Ability to motivate players
a) Very positive - Gets to know each player as an individual and knows what motivates them.
b) Somewhat positive - Motivates everyone the same way.
c) Neutral - Usually motivates kids, but occasionally undermines motivation.
d) Somewhat negative -  Rarely motivates kids, more often than not undermines it.
e) Very negative - Demotivates players until they leave the team or quit the sport.

5) Ability to communicate with players OFF the field
a) Very positive - Each kid always knows where they stand with clear and specific expectations
b) Somewhat positive - Communicates clearly, but not on an individual basis
c) Neutral - Basic level of communication
d) Somewhat negative -  Kids rarely know where they stand or what the vision is for the team
e) Very negative - Constantly cuts down players and does not give any clues on how to improve.

6) Ability to communicate with players ON the field
a) Very positive - All communications are positive. Players are never afraid to try things.
b) Somewhat positive - Mostly positive encouragement and teaching
c) Neutral - Mixes both positive and negative comments equally.
d) Somewhat negative - Yells constantly and is often negative. Kids play tentatively.
e) Very negative -Yells at players, umpires, other coaches creates a bad environment.

7) Ability to communicate with parents
a) Very positive - Each parent knows where their kids stand with clear and specific expectations
b) Somewhat positive - Communicates all info clearly, but not on an individual basis
c) Neutral - Basic level of communication regarding schedules, rain outs, ect.
d) Somewhat negative -  Parents often in the dark due to lack of communication
e) Very negative - Negative comments overshadow any positive information.

8) Ability to be a good role model
a) Very positive - Always treats players, opponents, referees and parents with respect.
b) Somewhat positive - Usually treats players, opponents, referees and parents with respect.
c) Neutral - Typically respectful, but sometimes loses cool.
d) Somewhat negative -  Often does not respect others and loses control of temper.
e) Very negative - Not at all a good role model, should be banned from coaching kids.

9) Ability to handle difficult players
a) Very positive - Manages difficult players with aplomb and motivates them to be team players.
b) Somewhat positive - Handles most situations well, makes difficult decisions when needed.
c) Neutral - Handles most situations, but sometimes turns a blind eye
d) Somewhat negative -  Only handles situations when they reach a critical stage
e) Very negative - Lets difficult players become a cancer and completely undermine the team

10) Ability to handle difficult parents
a) Very positive - Manages difficult parents with aplomb and motivates them to be supportive.
b) Somewhat positive - Handles most situations well, makes difficult decisions when needed.
c) Neutral - Handles most situations, but sometimes turns a blind eye
d) Somewhat negative -  Only handles situations when they reach an explosive stage
e) Very negative - Lets difficult parents become a cancer until they undermine the team

11) Ability to handle star players
a) Very positive - Makes the special players better without undermining the development of others
b) Somewhat positive - Makes the special players better but sometimes at the expense of others
c) Neutral - The star player improves with no special treatment.
d) Somewhat negative -  Star player is featured so much that they become selfish with less impact
e) Very negative - Completely undermine the star player with overuse or negative abuse.

12) Attitude on winning
a) Very positive - Not the goal, but wins consistently by developing all players and team play
b) Somewhat positive - Usually wins by developing players and inspiring team play.
c) Neutral - Wins by relying on star players in tough situations, develops others in easy situations
d) Somewhat negative -  Winning is more important than fun and player development.
e) Very negative - Win at all costs, player development is not emphasized at all. Willing to cheat.

13) Ability to make the kids love the game.
a) Very positive - Every member of the team loves the game more after the season.
b) Somewhat positive - Most kids develop a love for the game.
c) Neutral - Coach neither instills the love of the game nor erodes it.
d) Somewhat negative -  Coach erodes a kid's love for the game.
e) Very negative - Kids leave the team or quit the sport because of the coach.

14) Ability to effectively distribute playing time that matches skills and effort.
a) Very positive - Every player gets their fair share of playing time to maximize development.
b) Somewhat positive - Mostly equitable, most kids get their fair share of playing time.
c) Neutral - Mostly equitable, but stars play more in difficult situations.
d) Somewhat negative -  Playing time is not distributed evenly to match skills and effort.
e) Very negative - Less stilled players are relegated to bench, coach's kid gets favorable treatment.

15) Ability to manage the non-sports elements of the job
a) Very positive - Team is managed like a successful business.
b) Somewhat positive - Team is mostly managed well, problems are handled.
c) Neutral - Coach delegates the work, finances, scheduling and it is managed well.
d) Somewhat negative -  Finances, scheduling and communications are often in flux.
e) Very negative - The team finances, scheduling and communications are a disaster.

Now that you have finished the test - See where you rank


The Main Point

Coaching is bigger than X's and O's. You are not just developing players, you are developing young minds. Minds that will remember you. So, will you be remembered as a coaching legend or not?

Monday, May 17, 2010

Youth Sports: Sometimes Uneventful

Sometimes youth games are uneventful and that is a good thing. Games 45 through 51 were uneventful.

Game 45

My daughter, CC, missed her softball Saturday afternoon game due to a stomach virus. It takes a lot to knock her off a field.

Game 46 

My daughter, CC, was feeling better on Sunday morning. She was a little weak, but was ready to play soccer. She gave it her all, but seemed to tire quickly. The coach noticed and put her in goal. She made several saves and had yet another assist with a long booming punt.

Game 47

My Son, Nic, had a game on Sunday too. Although this was the 21st game of the year, it was the first league game. My son caught the entire game. He threw out a base stealer, the 7th time he has done that this year. He walked twice.

Game 48

My daughter, CC, went from the soccer field to the softball field. She loves her brother and emulates him when she can. When the coach asked her if she would like to be the catcher, she couldn't get the gear on fast enough. Ironically enough, she walked twice too.

Game 49 

My son, Nic, played in a doubleheader on Sunday. I had to miss most of the second game to watch my daughter play softball. Nic's team is the club's A team in the age bracket and they were playing the B team. I didn't expect the game to be very good and I knew that Nic wouldn't catch both games of the doubleheader, so I did not mind missing the game. After the softball game, I went to watch the bottom half of last inning of Nic's game. Nic's team was losing 8 to 3. Nic was in the batter's box as I approached. He walked, stole two bases and scored. The team rallied to make the game 8-7 with two outs and the bases loaded. A hit or a walk would have tied the game up, but the last batter popped it up and the B team prevailed. I can tell you that the A team did lots of running after that game.  

Game 50

Speaking of B teams. Nic's B team in volleyball was playing in the first round of the CYO volleyball playoffs. There is only one playoff for both the A teams and the B teams. Our team was the last seed in the tournament and therefore played the 1st seed A team. The kids on our team who started the season as good athletes but terrible volleyball players were starting to understand the game better. They actually gave the 1st seed a scare. Nic's team had the lead for most of the first game, but lost the first 13-15. In the second game of the best of three match, Nic's team was up 12-1, but lost 13-15 again. It was fun to watch them improve over the year. The end of volleyball means a little less craziness for mom and dad.

Game 51

The elite division for 9U girls soccer has 8 teams. Each team plays the other teams in the division one time. At the end of the season, the bottom two teams are demoted and the top two teams from the premier division are promoted. Prior to this game, CC's soccer team was 2-4 in the division and in jeopardy of being demoted. Unfortunately, the last two games on the schedule are against the 1st place and 2nd place teams. Last night's game was against the very tough 2nd place team, the Stingers. The team I predict will win the division.

The girls on CC's team know what is at stake and they came out and played tough. Actually, both teams played a tough for 20 minutes before the first goal was made by the Stingers. A few minutes later, CC's team was awarded a corner kick. My daughter was selected to cross the ball into the box. She put a perfect pass onto the foot of the center midfielder for a one-timer goal to tie the game up. The lead did not hold long and eventually CC's team lost 6-2. CC's team still has a good chance of remaining in the elite division, but they need some help.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Youth Volleyball: The Best Fan Ever

As I waited in line to pay my entry fee for the youth volleyball game, I noticed that there was a lone fan seated in the front row of the bleachers near the entrance waiting for the action to start. This fan greeted everyone who walked into the gym regardless of team affiliation. Unfortunately many of the fans ignored him.

As I walked into the gym, I received my hearty hello from the fan. I stopped to say hello and gave him a high five. My daughter and I decided to sit right behind him. As we sat down, he immediately turned around and to tell me that the blue team was playing the black team. I told him that I was rooting for the black team and asked if his brother was playing for the blue team. He responded with a huge smile, "9, mine, 9 mine" I told him that my son wore number 32. He repeated, "32 mine, 32 mine." I asked him his name. He said, "E" at first, so I called him E. Later he corrected me and told me his name was, "Ed". I asked him his age. He told me that he was 56, but I was pretty sure that he was 14 or 15.

During the entire first game, he twisted around to talk to me and my daughter. We decided to move down and sit right next to him to make it easier for him to talk to us. I was taking pictures of the action and snapped a picture of his brother. I showed him the image on the LCD and he laughed and laughed. I then used my iPhone to record a movie, I held the camera phone toward the court and we watched the the action on the phone. Ed said, "Brother on TV, brother on TV"

Ed was a big blue team supporter and every now and then he would break out with a loud cheer. Once after a particularly good play by his team, he did a little break dance routine on the floor beside the court.  My daughter and I cheered him on with delight.

As my daughter and I cheered for the members of our team like Jimmy, Nic and Andy. Ed would then start to cheer for them too. He cheered more for Nic's serves than for those of his own brother. By the end of the match, Ed was most definitely a supporter of Nic and our team.

After the game, Ed's parents were giving him the business for changing his allegiance to the enemy team. I said to his parents, "we wouldn't have won all three games without his loud and uplifting support. Ed made it seem like a home game for us." They needled him more all in good fun.

The Main Point

Ed was born with down syndrome, but we can all learn a little from Ed. Ed taught me to live life with enthusiasm regardless of your situation and cheer for everyone. Ed I will try.

Game 44

My son's volleyball team won three straight games. One of his best friends, Andy, tied a modern day volleyball record, he scored on 15 straight serves to start and finish the game. He was the only one on our side of the court to touch the ball. The one serve that the other team did manage to return went to Andy. He dove for it and somehow return it for a winner. Ed cheered like crazy when he saw that.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Youth Baseball: One Game Suspension

Before baseball practice, the coach announced that some changes were going to be made. He has not been happy with the effort and the discipline. He announced that he was going to post a depth chart each week. The depth chart will show each kid's standing on the team. My son was named the starting catcher and the ninth batter in the order. He leads the team in career hits, but has been struggling this year so the ninth batting position did not come as a surprise.

The coach also announced a few other new rules and the associated consequences. He told the kids that cursing wouldn't be tolerated. The consequences for curing one time would result in a one game suspension. The second offense would result in a two game suspension. If the player violated the rule a third time, then a longer term solution may be enforced.

After the speech, the kids sprinted out to their positions for defensive drills. Nic played catcher for the first half and left field for the second half of practice. I noticed that he was extremely motivated. He loves a challenge, so this depth chart thing, in my opinion, is good.

After about 2 hours of defensive work, the kids did some conditioning running. The coach excused Nic from the running because he wanted to talk to him. I watched the conversation from afar. The coach had his hand on Nic's shoulder. Both were talking and both were nodding their heads. As I watched, I speculated that the coach was praising my son for an outstanding practice. I even wondered if my son was being named captain. Last season, the coach pulled Nic to the side during a practice to tell him that he was the captain of the team. The conversation ended and Nic joined the rest of the team in the conditioning. Nic's face did not give me any clues to the topic of the conversation.

After the practice, Nic gathered his things and was the first one to leave the field. He's always the last to leave the field, so this was highly unusual. He bolted by me and toward the car. I knew something was wrong, so I jogged up to Nic. Nic didn't want to talk until he got into the car. When we got into the car, Nic told me that he was suspended for cursing.

It had rained all week so Nic's team had to practice in the outfield. It was wet, but playable. The team was practicing rundown drills. Nic participated as a runner caught in a pickle. While he was eluding his teammates, he slipped and got soaking wet. As he was falling, he yelled out with a huge smile on his face, "Ah I slipped." The coach heard "ahhh shit."

I talked to my son. He stared me straight in the eye and told me that he didn't curse. I want to believe him and actually do even he has been curing occasionally since he has been playing Call of Duty Live with foul mouthed teenagers from all over the world.

The next morning, I called the coach. He said that he hated to give Nic a suspension because he knows that Nic is one of the hardest working players on the team. He also stated that he is trying to establish some discipline and he cannot do that if he does not enforce the rules. He claims that he thought he heard Nic curse and then corroborated it with another coach and two of Nic's teammates.

The Main Point

Rules are rules sometimes they are enforced justly and sometimes not. Like in baseball, sometimes the umpire is right and sometimes he is wrong, but it is his call. Nic will sit the next game out and hopefully learn from it.

Game 42 and 43

Nic and I drove 195 miles round trip to sit out and serve the one game suspension. He sat out the first game of a doubleheader in Indiana. I was proud of Nic, he could have moped around but he did not. He was the most vocal cheerleader in the dugout. I, on the other hand, was moping. He did start the second game at catcher and played well. He hit a double off the fence against a very tough lefty pitcher.

Youth Baseball: Another Tragedy

On Saturday May 8th, a 13-year-old St. Regis Falls Central School baseball player died. The boy, Brady Lee Frazier died five days after he was hospitalized with a head injury suffered while playing baseball with the school's modified team. The eighth-grade pitcher was hit in the head by a line drive during a practice session.

I have been blogging since March and this is the third story that I have reported. Last year one of my friends son's was seriously injured by a line drive while pitching. So I have to ask this question.

How many more kids need to die or be mamed before helmets are required for pitchers?

The Main Point

No governing body seems to be establishing safety rules, but coaches can certainly mandate that their players must wear fielding helmets. 

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Youth Baseball: If You Ain't Cheating, You Ain't Trying

This morning on XM radio,  I listened to Rob Dibble and Jim Memolo of the MLB show talk about cheating in Major League Baseball. They were talking about the allegations against the Phillies for using binoculars to steal the catcher's signs. During the show, Rob Dibble made the following comment, "If you ain't cheating, you ain't trying."  Sadly, I had heard that very phase on a youth baseball field two years ago.

Crazy Youth Sports Parent Series

Two seasons ago, my son's team was very very good. Good enough to come in second in the CABA World Series. When a team is that good, it's often difficult to find local teams to challenge you. Heck, it's hard to get local teams to even play your team. To find good competition, our team accepted an invitation to play in a friendly 3 game series against a superstar team from Knoxville, Tennessee. At the time, the Knoxville team was in the middle of an 83 game winning streak.

The first game was really exciting, our boys battled all game long and ended up losing in the final inning 8-9.

Between games, the two teams gathered for a hot dog and hamburger cookout hosted by the moms of the Knoxville team. It was really nice.

The second game was not as exciting as the first game. Our boys got thumped 15-3.

The following morning, the two teams met again for the third and final game. The Knoxville winning streak was standing at 85 games. Our team jumped out to an early lead, but the Knoxville team battled back. Both teams were held scoreless in the middle innings, then in the top of the 6th inning, our team jumped ahead 4 to 2. We had one of our best pitchers on the mound to close out the game 6 inning game and end the 85 game winning streak.

Our pitcher walked the first batter, who would eventually steal second and third. Our pitcher then recorded the first out with a strike out. The next Knoxville batter walked and stole second without a throw.

It was second and third with one out when the craziest thing happened. The Knoxville coach called for a suicide squeeze bunt play. The runner on third ran home as the pitch was delivered. The Knoxville batter bunted the ball up the third base line. With a 2 run lead, our coach called for the pitcher, who fielded the bunt, to throw the ball to first for the second out. Both the homeplate umpire and the umpired situated behind the mound, watched the close play at first. The field umpired made the call loud and clear,  "out". As that was happening the Knoxville runner who started the play at second base slide across home plate for the tying run.

What, two runs scored on a suicide bunt? How could that happen? There was no error. There was no delay or hesitation by our players.

What happened will confound you. The runner, who started the play on second, did not touch third. He simply rounded the corner and headed for home while most everyone was concentrating on the play at first.

Our kids were scratching their heads.

Our coaches and fans saw this egregious play and complained immediately. The umpires didn't see the infraction so could not call the cheater out to end the game. Our team ended up losing the game in extra innings and the Knoxville team preserved their winning streak.

After the game, our head coach told the assistant coach of the other team that that play spoiled a great baseball experience for both teams. He told the assistant coach that your team is better than than. The assistant coach replied with southern twang, "if you ain't cheating, you ain't trying." In other words, the kids were coached that play.

Our coach sent an email to the head coach after a few days had passed and expressed his disappointment. The Knoxville coach did an honorable thing, he forfeited the game. Sure enough the team website showed the loss, the streak was over.

The Main Point

I think that stealing signs from the field or dugout has been a part of baseball since the beginning, this is smart baseball and is not cheating. Using high powered surveillance from beyond the field is cheating.

The egregious move perpetrated against our team by Knoxville was cheating. Cheating ruins the game for all involved. It also ruins reputations.

Is it really worth it? Ask Bill Belichick the coach of the Patriots who I absolutely admired and respected until he was caught cheating. On second thought, maybe you shouldn't ask him because I wouldn't be surprised if he responded with, "if you ain't cheating, you ain't trying".

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Youth Soccer: Penalty Kicks and Self-Esteem

There are many liberal minded people in power in youth sports who demand no score games and no standing leagues. They do not want little Johnny or Suzie to feel bad when they lose. They think that the self-esteem of little athletes is fragile.

Is it the kids who cannot handle losing or is it the parents? Maybe these no score - no standings youth leagues are meant to control parents who can act kind of kooky when their kids are not winning.

But the common reason for no score - no standings youth leagues is the self-esteem issue. I personally think that real self esteem is established by overcoming and then triumphing. It does not come from being praised for everything regardless of results, talent or effort. Fake praise and false situations do not lead to a positive self-esteem. Kids are smarter and more perceptive than these liberal minded youth sports community organizers give them credit for.

There are going to be lots of kids who are not good at sports and never will be. Are they doomed to a low self esteem? No. They may find that they are talented at music and their self-esteem will be derived from working hard and learning how to play an instrument. Others may find that they are talented in math or acting or debate, their self-esteem will be derived from success in these endeavors.

Game 41

I bet those liberal minded no score types loath the penalty kick in soccer. When a PK is awarded, there is a clear winner and a loser in a drama that plays out under a spot light in front of hushed fans.

Last night, my daughter, CC, was the goalie when a penalty kick was awarded to the opposing team. The ref gave my daughter the instructions. He then turned to the striker and gave her the instructions. The striker placed the ball on a tuft of grass. My daughter placed her heals on the goal line. I was thinking that she has saved 100's of my shots on her and after each shot she would say, "Daddy kick it harder." I knew that the odds were for the striker and against the goalie, but I was confident that CC could handle it the situation emotionally whether she stopped the ball or not.

The ref blew the whistle. The striker approached the ball and absolutely drilled. The ball sailed toward the net slightly right of center. CC jumped up as high as she could and deflected the ball straight up in the air. The ball landed in front of the goal. The striker and the entire opposing offense crashed the goal for the rebound. CC grabbed the ball and darted out, she then punted the ball down the field. The ball landed just beyond the mid-line and took a huge bounce. The striker for our team ran under the ball and with one touch drilled it into the goal. CC was beaming. She said after the game, "I have never had so many high 5's."

The Main Point

It was a memorable play. A play my daughter and I will remember forever. It was a self-esteem building play. The girl who missed the shot is an elite soccer player, playing at the highest level in the region. The fact that she was chosen out of all the other girls on her team to take the kick should have been a honor. She should have felt good that she struck the ball with power and placement. She will likely not remember this play in a week or two and her self esteem as an elite soccer player will remain intact.

Kids know the situation. Kids know the score and Kids are going to grow up to be who they are going to be regardless of whether they were on a winning team or not.

Games 33, 36, 39

CC played in a soccer tournament this past weekend. Her team, the Sabres, was clearly the best team in the tournament. Being the best team in the tournament does not guarantee victory.

There were two pool play divisions. I assume that the divisions were randomly selected. The two best teams in the tournament were in the same division, the Sabres and the Bombers. The first game of the tournament featured the Sabres against the Bombers. The Sabres are not a morning team and didn't start well. The Sabres got down, 2-0 in the first half. They managed to win the second half 1-0, but it was not good enough.  The Sabres went on to win their next two pool play games 7-1 and 8-0 respectively, but that was not good enough to win the pool and advance. The Bombers won their games 5-1 and 6-3 to advance to the finals. They ended up winning the tournament. CC played well she had 2 goals and 2 assists in the tournament.

Game 35

Between soccer games on Saturday, my daughter was able to play 3 innings of her softball game. I tried to talk her out of playing on the fear that it was too much. She wouldn't hear it. She wants to do it all.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Youth Soccer: The Earring Dilemma

My friend is a big time soccer enthusiast. He's a true student of the game. He played in HS and on some pretty competitive club teams during and after college. He thinks he knows the game inside and out. That experience did not prepare him for today.

Before today he didn't know all the rules of the game. Today, he encountered the strict no earring rule and its impact on the game.

This strict "no earring" soccer rule is diametrically opposed to the strict rule that Claire's, the mall based ear piercing store established. Claire's established a "YOU CANNOT TAKE YOUR EARRINGS OUT FOR SIX WEEKS." rule. This rule is communicated loud and clear. Young impressionable girls walk away from their first ear piercing scared. Scared of the death penalty that will be imposed if they take their earrings out before six weeks. And do not be fooled, Claire's has considerable clout with 3000 stores worldwide and 80 million ears pierced.

When these two rules are at odds it's not pretty. Here's how it typically plays out.

The girls line up face to face with their opponents at mid field prior to the soccer game.
The ref reviews the rules. 
The ref checks for proper cleats and shin pads.
The ref asks the girls if they are wearing any jewelry and in particular earrings.
If a girl has earrings in, the ref tells the girl to take them out.
The young girl with new earrings will then look over at her mom with a look of doom on her face.
Then the girl will tell the ref that Claire's told her under penalty of death that she cannot take out her earrings.
The ref will then explain that she or he cannot allow her to play with earrings.
Then to pass the blame the ref will say something about his hands being tied and insurance.
The young girl will wonder what that all means as her eyes start to well up with tears.
She will try to hold it together.
She will look for support from fellow girls
Unfortunately she will only see the members of the opposing team each sporting big grins on their faces knowing that she is toast.
Then the young girl will run off the field crying uncontrollably and jump into the lap of her mom.
The mom will pack up her fold-away chair, slip it into the fold-away chair sleeve and go home to clean the front and back of each ear with Claire’s Ear Care Antiseptic.
But not before a quick stop at the ice cream store.

Crazy Youth Sports Parent Alert

How do I know this? My daughter went through this dramatic experience when she was five. Here was my response, "Who the hell is Claire? Are you kidding me? Just take them out, we need you to win this pee wee soccer game."

For the six weeks following the edict from Claire to my daughter, my daughter line up at mid-field with her hair down and avoided eye contact with the ref.

I know what you are thinking, the rule is in place to protect the young athlete and I was an idiot for allowing her to play. I know.

This is not an isolated situation. I have seen the same scene played out several times with other players during my coaching career and now my buddy has experienced it too.

That is why I am telling you all now, avoid the earring dilemma, do not let your kids get their ears pierced during the season.

The Main Point

Young girls are going to listen to Claire's over any ref or any dad. Always. Parents NEVER let your kids get their ears pierced during soccer or basketball season.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Youth Sports: Son What Kind of Hydration Do You Want, Blue or Purple.

A quick google search for "High School Athlete Dies of Dehydration" reveals many deaths of athletes from heat illness. Gatarade is currently running a promotion to help educate high school students on the importance of hydration.

Gatorade went to nine high schools with a mobile locker room to educate HS athletes, coaches and trainers on the importance of proper hydration. They are also promoting their G2 line. The vehicle consists of 20 large lockers, a smart board for “chalk talks,” two fluid-loss testing stations and monitors to watch DirecTV or play X-Box 360.

The vehicle will physically reach 400 to 500 students in the 9 locations (about 4,000 kids and their coaches and trainers.) There is a blogging station on the vehicle where these students, coaches and trainers can blog, micro-blog (tweet) about the event to their friends to extend the reach of the message way beyond the 9 schools. Of course, educating the coaches and trainers will have longer lasting impact as they will develop new rules for practicing under extreme conditions and will teach future classes.

In the vehicle, the students are first educated about the G-Series, then they put the product to the test during actual workouts. The athletes drink G-Prime before a workout, then G-Perform during their workouts. Then they undergo a fluid loss test. If that reveals dehydration, they have them drink G-Recovery.

Of course the promoters claim that it's not about selling products it's about teaching the high school athletes and the coaching staff about how important hydration is. Come on, it's about educating students about the dangers of dehydration so they can sell products.

The Main Point

I am a fan of Gatarade, but their myriad of products have always confused me, Fierce, Tiger, Focus, G2, Bring It, Shine On, Tough, Rain, Gatorade AM, etc., etc. They all tasted the same and benefit differences were never communicated effectively. The G line will confuse many, but it is less confusing than the mess that was on shelf prior and the benefits are clearly communicated.

I am not sure I would buy the Prime or the Recovery specifically, they will need to convince me to. Oh yeah, they are releasing a G-Pro line to be sold in specialty stores like Dick's Sporting Goods and GNC. They just do not believe in simplicity.

I know my son will not ask for G-Prime, G-Perform or G-Recovery, he will simply ask for for blue or purple. And I will buy it for him because I know that it is important to keep him hydrated.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Kid Tasered At Phillies Game, Wanna Getaway

"Hi dad, I'm thinking about running onto the field at the Phillies game, what do you think?"

"Son don't do it"

According to the news this morning, that conversation happened right before a 17-year-old baseball fan was subdued by a stadium security officer with a taser gun after he ran on to the field during a Philadelphia Phillies home game May 3rd.

So the question is, was the taser gun appropriate for the situation?

While it appears that the fan was unarmed and harmless, can you really be sure? In 2002, Kansas City Royals first base coach, Tom Gamboa, was attacked on the field by a knife wielding father and son duo.

Some of the controversy has to do with the age of the tasered kid. How was the policeman suppose to know how old the kid was?

All things considered, I feel that officer acted appropriately to control the situation to keep themselves and the ball players safe.

I always look for the conspiracy theory. I think that Southwest Airlines paid the kid and the officer to set up the perfect scenario for their Wanna Getaway campaign. Check out the strategically placed outfield fence advertisement.

The Main Point

Kids listen to your fathers, they are smarter than you think and probably smarter than you.

Game 31 and Game 32

My kids both had games tonight at the same time about 1 mile apart. I went to see my daughter's first AB. She was hit by a pitch on the knee cap. She ended up getting hit by a pitch twice and walked once. Girls fastpitch softball can be rather boring. Her team won.

My son's slump continues. This past weekend we went to the batting cages and my son was mashing it. He was mashing it in the 55 mph cage, the 70 mph cage and even the 80 mph cage. He entered tonight's game with a lot of confidence. Unfortunately, he faced a pitcher who threw the ball about 40 mph. He is beyond frustrated.

Youth Baseball: Paul ONeil; Me and My Dad Book Review

I read to my son almost every night from the time he was two until he was ten. We are a sports family, so during that time, I read a lot of sports books to him. Yesterday morning I was reminded of one of the books that I read to my son.

I was listening to MLB Radio on XM yesterday morning. One of my favorite players, Paul O'Neill was interviewed. Paul O'Neill was not the biggest name on the team, but he was arguably the heart and soul of the Yankees from 1993 to 2001. He helped the Yankees win 4 championships during that time. What I liked most about Paul O'Neill was that he worked hard and played with passion.

He wrote an inspiring book about his life in baseball and the impact his dad, Chick O'Neill, had on his life and his baseball career. It's a good read for any dad who has a little league player. I read the book to my son several years ago and we really enjoyed it. My son still makes references to it. Just the other day, I bought my son a milk shake after a really tough game. My son reminded me that Paul O'Neill's dad used to take him to get a milk shake after games too.

Paul O'Neil has taken what he learned from his dad and has applied it to his family. He won a father of the year award by the National Father's Day Committee in 2008.

The Main Point

Read to your kids. Read about sports heroes. It will help them in school and on the field. Make sure you read about players who played their respective games with passion and lived a clean self-respecting life. I must confess, I did read my son a book about the greatest drinking, smoking and womanizing baseball player ever, Babe Ruth. The kid's book I read about the Bambino conveniently left out the more unsavory parts.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Youth Sports: Thoughts on Prayers For Performance

Last year in a crucial situation during the AAU National Championship Tournament, my son gave the sign of the cross before his at bat. After the at bat, I asked him about it. He said, "I prayed to God to get a hit off the tough pitcher." It didn't work, Nic popped out to deep right field.

Between games I told my son, "Nic, don't pray to God for a hit, pray to God for confidence and concentration instead. God does not care if you get a hit or not. Besides, the pitcher is probably praying that you don't get a hit so that would likely cancel out your prayer anyway. God will help you with your confidence and concentration. And confidence and concentration lead to lots of hits. Pray to God for these things instead."

I follow Morgan Ensberg's blog. Here is his account of his first college AB and a prayer to God.

Calm down.  You have been hitting extra batting practice in the cage after every single practice for a year.  You have taken extra ground balls every single day.
You have never had it easy.  You are the guy who finds a way to win.  You’re a grinder!  This is when it counts!  You can do this.  It’s time. This is your shot Morgan.

Lord, I need you now.  Thank you for this opportunity.  You continue to bless me when I don’t deserve it!  Please help me calm down and allow me to use the ability that you have given me.  Amen.
I have prepared.  I am ready.
Morgan Ensberg hit a Home Run.

The Main Point

In sports, there are many moments when you are in the spotlight alone. This is particularly true for baseball players. Players are alone on the mound facing a tough hitter, alone at the plate facing a dominant pitcher or alone in the field with a hot shot coming their way. Baseball can certainly be a lonely game, so I am thrilled that my son feels God is with him for support. I'm just teaching him to ask God for confidence and concentration instead of hits (or baskets, or goals, or aces, or birdies).

Game 30

There were no story lines during my son's volleyball game. His team lost 2 of 3 games per usual.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Youth Basketball: If You Can't Beat Them, Recruit Them

Last season, my daughter CC, led her team to the town basketball championship for third grade girls. She scored 16 of the team's 24 points to beat the number one seeded team. (Championship Recap)

After the game, a parent from the other team came up to me and my wife and said, "your daughter is a special talent."

I said, "thank you, that was a very hard fought game. You have a great team." (I had no idea who their daughter was so I made a generic comment.)

She said, "yeah, but I was rooting for your team."

Another parent from the other team was listening in said, "me too, I was rooting for your daughter. She is a rock star."

I immediately asked, "why?"

They went on to informed me that the season was a horrible experience for their kids. I learned what I already knew, that almost every play was designed for the coach's daughter, who is 12 or more inches taller than every other player, athletic and dominant.

If you can't beat them, recruit them

We recently received an email from the opposing coach. She is forming a summer team of the best players in the town. She wants CC to play. Several of CC's best friends were invited too. CC wants to play. We are a little reluctant, but we are going to let her play.

The Main Point

We of course have the choice to play for this coach or not, but in many situations you cannot pick your coach. Young athletes need to learn how to find enjoyment and self satisfaction no matter what the coaching situation is.

Some kids who only play for coaches who coddle them during their younger years, struggle when they encounter a coach in HS that is demanding and tough. Exposing your kids to all kinds of coaching styles when they are young will prepare them for the future. Prepare them for future coaches on future teams, future teachers at future schools and future managers in their future place of employment.

Of course, you should never tolerate an abusive coach.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Youth Sports: Positive and Negative Influences on Performance

Game 29

My dad came to town to watch the kids play sports this weekend. Four baseball games, one volleyball game, one softball game and one soccer match were on the schedule. We ended up watching weather radar instead.

My dad did get to see one volleyball game on Friday night. My son's team lost all three matches. It was painful to watch.

Nic's team is bad, but they usually win one game of the three game match. Typically, my son can secure one win with his serve. His powerful diving serves are very difficult to return. On Friday night, my son was amped up and all but one of his serves went long. There are two possible reasons for this, 1)  he wanted to perform well for his visiting grandfather or 2) he was showing off for a bunch of girls from his class who were watching the game.

The B team does not usually attract girls to the game. The girls only go to the A team games. On Friday night, the B team played on the same court right after the A team, so the girls stayed around to watch. My son would have been on the A team, if he did not commit to 75 baseball games, so I think that my son was playing to prove a point to those girls.

The Main Point

Athletic performance is influenced by so many factors on any given day.
Confidence level, high or low;
Mood, good or bad;
Weather, hot, cold, wet, other;
Injuries, nagging or more serious;
Expectations, internal or external;
Fans, for and against, etc.
Each game is a learning experience from both a physical and mental standpoint. Help your young athletes understand the external and internal influences that affect performance. The awareness may help them focus.



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