Thursday, September 29, 2011

Youth Soccer (ODP): How to Make the Olympic Team

At age 11, jumping into ODP
Have you ever wondered how the National Teams are selected? 

Would you believe that the process to identify and train players starts as early as 10 years old? I am just learning about this because my daughter's coach is encouraging her to go to ODP training next month.

ODP stands for the Olympic Development Program.

Through this program, United States Soccer Federation identifies special players that will one day be considered for the US National Teams to represent the USA at the Olympic games and World Cup.

Every state has an ODP program. Phase 1 of ODP is open to all kids not just select players. 

ODP consists of several training sessions located in districts across every state. These training / evaluation sessions are usually held in November / December and early spring. They take a break for the club season and then pick up again in June.

These District Training sessions are conducted by ODP staff members and lots of hopeful kids participate. This is the end of the ODP experience for the 10 year olds, but kids 11 and up can advance.

The District Training is also a tryout that can lead to a tournament team selection. Players selected for a district team compete against other districts. These District tournaments are basically tryouts for the State Team. About 18-22 kids will make the State Team. Once on this team, players compete in tournaments against the other state teams from neighboring states. The top kids from these tournaments are invited to go to the US National Regional camp where kids from about 12 -14 different states compete for a spot on a Regional team.

The US National Teams are picked starting at the age of U14 through U23 and will represent the United States at International events all over the world.

The Main Point

This can be a great experience for your kid. It can also be is a tough and cruel process for the kids. As a parent you need to set the right expectations for your kid before you venture down this path. ODP is not for everyone.

My daughter wants to go to the District Training, so we are going to sign her up. At the very least, it will provide some good training. We will also be able to gauge how good she is or how much harder she needs to work if she wants to advance. 

We are realistic. We know that making the National Team, a regional team, state team or even a district team is highly unlikely, but the experience will help with Club soccer, High School or maybe even college. 

If you read this blog, you know that my daughter loves basketball too. So if she makes the State team she cannot play because her basketball team will be vying for an AAU National Championship in the month of June. Our objective for this year is to gain experience for when she is older. If, of course, she decides to concentrate on soccer over basketball. At age 11, she is too young to specialize.

I will be reporting about the process throughout so you can learn from my experience. If you have experienced ODP already, please provide your perspective in the comments below. Thanks

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Youth Baseball: BBCOR Bats for Christmas?

My son wants a new BBCOR bat for this fall ball season and for next spring. I told him we are going to wait until our league officially announces the BBCOR bat mandate. 

My other reason is that it saves me money to give it to him as a Christmas present instead of a random purchase. (Dad secret.)

Before you buy - read this post and check out the BBCOR comparison app by baseball express.

Here is a well written email from my son's baseball coach to the team regarding BBCOR bats and the lower expectations in terms of batting statistics associated with them. 

2012 BATS:

At the league meeting on Saturday, we’ll be discussing the BBCOR bat issue.  I am not 100% certain at this point what the league is going to do, but wanted to give you a heads up on the issue.

The new BBCOR standard measures bat performance and replaces the previous BESR (Ball Exit Speed Ratio) standard.  The NCAA required BBCOR baseball bats for the 2011 season.  For NFHS (National Federation of High Schools), all bats must be BBCOR certified for the 2012 season. I expect the league to follow the NFHS for 13U and up at a minimum. 

BBCOR stands for Batted Ball Coefficient of Restitution (What?).  Simply put, it’s a measurement of the LOSS of energy for both the ball and the bat at impact.  Instead of measuring the speed of the ball after it is batted (BESR and the current standard), BBCOR measures the “trampoline” effect on BOTH the ball and the bat.  A PITCHED ball holds a lot of energy, with wood bats much of that energy is lost as the ball compresses on impact with a dense surface.    With hollow-core aluminum or composite bats (most of our current bats) the thin walls flex which distorts the ball less therefore the ball retains more of its original PITCHED energy plus gains the power of the bat’s speed and the bat’s flexibility.  The less energy lost from the pitched ball, the faster the BATTED will be launched off the bat - therefore non-wood bats hit balls FASTER than wood bats.

Why not just go to wood?  Money.  The expense would increase annual operating costs significantly – especially for a 24+ man high school or 35 man NCAA rosters.

The bottom line – new bats under the Christmas tree will have to carry the BBCOR stamp on the bat and may be inspected by umps this year.


The bat you put under the tree will have less hits in it

From the NCAA
Division I batting average, scoring and home runs per game in 2011 resemble the wood-bat 1970 era.
Division I teams in 2011 averaged 5.58 runs per game, well off the record 7.12 in 1998.
Home runs left parks at an average of .52 per team per game in 2011 compared with .94 last year and 1.06 in 1998 (also the peak year for that category). That resembles wood-bat days, too (.42) 
Batting average in 2011 was .282, the lowest since 1976.
Note - earned-run average, on the other hand, was its best (4.70) since 1980 (4.59).

The Main Point

The new bats will be much safer. And I believe that the games will be more enjoyable (See post about a great wood bat tournament). The 20-19 three hour games will be replaced with 3-2 nail biters. Pitching, bunting and fielding will become much more important. Baseball will be baseball again and I welcome the change.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Youth Basketball: A or B Team Which is Better for You?

As a parent you want the best for your kid in sports, in school and in life. You want them to succeed and fulfill their potential at everything they do.  To help them get to the highest levels of any endeavor, you work with them or you find coaches, teachers or mentors to help them, you encourage them when they have doubts about their abilities and you nudge them when the fear of failure is holding them back. An aware parent also has to recognize when not too push.

Last night, my son, Nic, went to basketball tryouts for his school's 8th grade team. He has played on the A team for the last two years, but he had no intentions of playing for the A team this year. And I had no intentions of pushing him.

Flashback: At the end of the 6th grade regular season and throughout the 6th grade playoffs, Nic's scrappy play earned him a spot on the starting five of the A team. It was a result of pure determination and hard work and he was so proud of himself. Still, when 7th grade tryouts came around his heart told him to jump to the B team and have fun. His head and pride (and maybe my pride) told him to play on the A team again, so he accepted a position on the A team again.

During the 7th grade season, Nic was not an A team starter anymore. He was relegated to a somewhat limited backup role. He and I both understood this because my son doesn't even pick up a basketball during golf and baseball seasons while others work had hard in the off season to improve and advance.

The coach did love Nic's intensity and quickness on defense, but he didn't have a role for Nic on the offensive side of the court. My son didn't exactly relish his limited role or the intensity of the hard-nosed coach who wouldn't let him wear his headband so after enduring a long miserable season he decided that the B team would be the best option for him.

After the season he said "I've decided to take my talents to the South B team. On the B team I will be a featured player, I will handle the ball more and I will be allowed to wear my NBA swag."

As it turned my son was not the only A team player to opt for the B team. Only 7 of the 9 original A team players decided to return. Two perennial B teamers had high hopes to make the A team but did not make the cut. The A team will make a run with only 7 players.

The Main Point

Parents get a certain amount of pride by saying that their kid play on the A team. As such many parents push their kids to reach for the top teams in the top leagues. The A team, however, might not be the best player development situation for the kid.

My son is deciding between two high schools for next year. One school is big and wins State Championships, the other school is smaller. He has very little chance of making the basketball team for the big school (unless of course he grows 10 inches), but he has an outside chance of making the squad of the smaller school. He will increase his chances if he improves his ball handling skills. He wouldn't improve his ball handling skills as a role player on the A team, but he will gain valuable experience handling the ball in game situations on the B team.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Youth Sports: 10 (More) Types of Sports Parents

Crazy Youth Sport Parents Series

One of my most popular posts was the called the The 10 types of Youth Sports Parents (Part 1). It was a descriptive list of parents that you'll likely find on the sidelines of every youth sports event. Here's 10 more.

Which one are you? Of course you can be more than one.

1) The Player Agent Dad - This dad only cares about the team if his kid is the captain and the team is winning in the most competitive league. Otherwise, he is working the phones to negotiate a possible trade to another team with a better situation. His prodigy will play on more little league teams before age 11 than Matt Stairs played on during his MLB career. Matt Stairs played on a record 13 MLB teams plus the Chunichi Dragons during his career. (Hat tip Anonymous Reader of Part 1)

2) The Supply Depot Mom - This is the mom with all the solutions. When Johnny, the star wide receiver, has to go number 2 right before the game and the only option is a port-a-potty without toilet paper, the coach calls on the Supply Depot Mom. He knows that there's a good chance she'll have a roll of toilet paper and hand sanitizer. This mom also has a full set of tools to fix equipment, ice packs, hair paint, eye black, an extra score book, pencils, extra sunglasses, a needle and thread, chalk to line the fields, etc. (Hat tip to The Trophy Mom)

3) The Roughrider Dad - This is the dad who arrives at the game with a saddle and cowboy boots. He will to ride the ref from wire to wire and go to the whip early and often if he has to.

4) The View Mom - This is the mom who gets to the field early to set up her chair right in the center of the field and saves the spots around her for other cackling moms. She's not there to see the game, however, she's there to lead a discussion. People joke that she's like Barbara Walters hosting The View, but they really aren't joking. During the game, the View Moms will answer the most pressing questions of the day like; Who's gonna win Dancing with the Stars?, Does Michelle Obama have any clothes with sleeves?, and Does the Dreamy Doctor Oz do house calls? At the end of the game, however, none of them can answer this simple question, "Mommy, MommyDid you see my goal?"

5) Grounds Crew Dad - This is the dad who is the first one to volunteer to prepare the fields for the game. You do not need to thank the Grounds Crew Dad, the opportunity to drive the John Deere is thanks enough.

6) The Spirit Wear SalesMom - Is this an overly enthusiastic booster or a profit-minded entrepreneur? I'm not sure, but this mom sets up shop in the back of her mini-van and has a full line of spirit wear including shirts, hats, sweatpants, mouse pads and team coffee mugs. And yes, she accepts AMEX.

Click Read More for 7 through 10

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Youth Basketball: Advice for a New Assistant Coach

Assimilating into an established team can be difficult for a new assistant coach. My advice, if possible, run a practice early in the season to establish a rapport with the players.

Last season, my daughter's CYO school team made it to the final four of the Cincinnati city championship. They were one point from advancing to the finals. (I still think that my daughter was fouled on a last second shot, but I have completely forgotten about that as you can tell). I was thrilled with the season, the team and the coaching staff, as such, I wanted my daughter to have the same coaches again this year.

Over the summer, the assistant coach for the team moved out of the city, so I called the head coach and volunteered to be the assistant coach. My main motivation was to keep my daughter on his team. He was thrilled to have his point guard locked up prior to the draft and accepted me into his coaching realm.

For the first couple of practices and games, I didn't want to overstep my bounds and I was too passive. In fact, I found myself on the bench spectating. Last week, the coach was not available for a practice and so I ran it. I worked the entire night before planning every minute of practice like I used to do when I coached soccer. I developed a plan to work on some issues that were exposed in a recent loss. The biggest issues were in-bounds plays, maintaining the dribble under pressure and free throws.

I put in two inbounds plays the girls affectionately call Banana and Hot Dog. I had the girls Run The Gauntlet. And I had the girls shoot free throws under pressure. The pressure was intense because each miss resulted in an up and back sprint.

The Main Point

By coaching alone, I was able to establish myself with the team. I kept the head coach in the loop by sharing my practice plan before the practice and followed up with a recap. I gained confidence and he gained confidence in me. The coach invited me to meet for a beer and strategy session. We worked together on a line-up and established our game plan for the next game against an undefeated team.

We won that game when my daughter hit a wide open 12 foot jumper in the final minute off of the Banana inbounds play. I was now in the fray.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Youth Sports: Remembering the Days After 9 - 11

As I watched the Jets game last night and I was pleased by the sight of players running onto the field with American flags for pre-game introductions. The sight of this flooded my memories of the days following the 9 - 11 attacks.

It was September 16, 2001, the day after my birthday, a birthday that I was in no mood to celebrate. 

It was a typical Sunday in September for me in many ways. 

I got up around 6am. 

I watched the news. 

I made my game plan for the soccer game that would be played in the afternoon despite some calling for the league to postpone it like the NFL and MLB did.

I made scrambled eggs and bacon for my family.

We all went to church.

After Church, my son and I went to the hardware store and I bought 12 American Flags. 

We then went to the field. 

The players and parents starting assembling. 

The kids changed into their cleats while parents set up their folding chairs on the sidelines. 

The refs arrived.

We went through the normal warm up routine. 

About 10 minutes before the game, I called the team together. 

I handed each one of them a small American flag. 

I told them that the ref was going to call them to the circle in the middle of the field and they were expected to assemble on the circle alternating every other spot with their opponent.

I informed them that we would all observe a moment of silence with heads down and flags held high and proud. I told them all to run across the field after the moment of silence is done and give their flag to their mom or dad. 

One kid said, "Really coach, the other team doesn't have flags. I'm not doing that."

I told the malcontent kid, "you live in the greatest country in the world and the best thing about it is that you have the freedom to do basically what you want to do, so if you don't want to carry the flag that's ok. But, we all enjoy these freedoms and I have the freedom to sit your butt on the bench for the entire game and I will just that if you don't join your teammates at the center of the field."

The two teams assembled. My entire team held the flags high (some higher than others) and then the kids delivered the flags to their parents. 

The whistle blew.

The parents waved their flags. 

The game ended in a tie.

After the game, I realized that youth games were still going to be played, some kids were still going to be clueless punks and life, for the most part, was going to be normal again.

The Main Point

Thankfully God blessed us with sports in those days after the tragic events to unite us and to help us heal. We will never forget. God Bless America.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Youth Sports: At What Age is it OK to Start Strength Training?

At age 10, my son experienced some arm problems playing baseball. It started when he broke the growth plate in his right arm throwing a fastball on a cold day early his U10 season. 

Luckily growth plate injuries heal quickly. What did not heal quickly was the mental side of coming back. My son was so afraid of hurting his arm again that he babied it. Next thing we know he had a shoulder problem. His shoulder got weak and he struggled through the next entire baseball season with shoulder discomfort. 

Last year, we started strength training including weights before the season and he had his first injury free baseball season in 3 years. We were thrilled with the outcome, but I have to say that quite a few people questioned me on whether weight training for a kid who has not gone through puberty is a good idea. People asked me if I was worried about stunting his growth. 

Of course I did the research on the internet and talked to his doctor and physical therapist before we began the program. But to end the myths about strength training for prepubescent kids, I consulted strength and endurance coach Alan Stein for his opinion on this topic. 

Here is his response.

Proper strength training does not stunt growth! In fact, you can actually begin a safe, age appropriate training program as young as 8 or 9 years old.

My counsel to all 13 and 14 year olds who ask me when they should start strength training…the answer is…today. 

The most important concept to understand is that a child’s chronological age and their physical and mental maturity are not always congruent. Children mature and progress at different rates across physical and mental spectrums. This includes their muscular and Central Nervous System maturity (coordination, body awareness, etc.) as well as their mental maturity (attention span, ability to process and follow instructions, etc.). Some 10 year olds look and act 16 and some 16 year olds look and act 10.

Important note: Due to the varying situations, you should get approval from a qualified professional prior to implementing a training program.

However, as a general rule of thumb, young athletes (ages 8-12) can and really should participate in a structured, supervised, age appropriate training program.

There is a difference between “lifting weights” and “strength training.”  I strongly prefer to use the term strength training.  You can improve strength without weights. My goal is not to produce better “weight lifters”, but rather to use appropriate training methods to produce stronger, more coordinated, and more confident players.  A truly comprehensive program utilizes more than just weights.  In fact, some of the most intense and difficult strength workouts we have our players do don’t even use weights!

A proper youth training program should involve dynamic flexibility, movement preparation, footwork, strength training, and agility drills. The program should be done two times per week, for 30-45 minutes per workout, and focus on multi-joint movements such as skipping, hopping, jumping, lunging, squatting, pushing, pulling, throwing, and twisting. The workouts should be challenging, yet fun and engaging with the goal of building great training habits and a solid foundation of efficient movement.

It is important for younger players to regularly experience a variety of motor skills in order to promote future athletic success and injury prevention.  Developing this basic coordination through a wide variety of movements, drills, and exercises is integral… with the eventual goal of developing basketball, soccer, football, track, etc specific coordination in their teenage years.  In other words, children need to learn how to run and jump properly, how to control their body in space and how to move efficiently before they learn how to dribble, shoot, and pass a basketball or a soccer ball. 

For the record, I am not saying that children under the age of 10 to 12 shouldn’t be playing basketball or soccer or other… of course they should.  But they should also be learning how to master their general motor skills (particularly running and jumping).

Research has shown that coordination is best developed between the ages of 10 to 12 years old.  There are several components to coordination, such as balance, rhythm, body awareness in space, and reaction. Younger players that master these components, and improve their coordination through appropriate training, tend to have better athletic success at later ages. Of course, one’s absolute athletic potential is somewhat pre-determined based on genetic predispositions.  However, regardless of their absolute athletic potential, every young player can make progress. This is why introducing a proper youth training program is so important.

Here are 4 guidelines to a quality youth training program:

Safe: young players must use proper form and appropriate resistances (if applicable).

Fun: young players should be engaged and enjoy training!

Fundamental: young players should master a variety of general motor skills (skipping, hopping, jumping, lunging, squatting, pushing, pulling, throwing, and twisting) before trying to master sport-specific skills (ball handling, shooting, etc.).

Challenging: young players learn quickly, so challenge them physically and mentally with a variety of new movements, exercises, and drills.

In this video, Alan does strength training with his toddlers - not really.

You can follow Alan at the following: 

The Main Point

Thanks Alan. An age appropriate strength training program will not harm a child’s growth, but will actually help strengthen their skeletal and muscular system as well as their connective tissue.  A proper training program will also help facilitate an improvement in their coordination and body awareness and possibly prevent injuries.

Alan specializes in Basketball strength and endurance training. Check out the 8-Week Youth Training Program that parent or coach can download:

Monday, September 5, 2011

Youth Soccer: Hope Solo Jr.?

My daughter, CC, and I watched the FIFA Women's World Cup this summer. CC is a goalie so she paid particular attention to Hope Solo. She noticed her athleticism. She noticed her technique. She noticed that Hope Solo is pretty. And she noticed that Hope Solo wore many different color uniforms.

So you know what that meant for me? Yep, trips to the sporting good stores and endless searches online for Hope Solo jersey's in size women's XS.

This past weekend, my daughter played in the Mead Cup, one of the best soccer tournaments in the country. She played in three games and like Hope Solo she made some spectacular save. Like Hope Solo she allowed some goals. And like Hope Solo, she wore a different goalie uniform for each game.

Hope Solo Diving Attempt
CC Diving Attempt
Hope Solo Clearing Pass
CC Clearing Pass
Hope Solo Save Attempt
CC Save Attempt
Hope Solo Save
CC Save
Hope Solo Concentration
CC Concentration
Hope Solo Water Break
CC Water Break
The Main Point

If you want to be the best, you need to study the best. Study their careers, study their moves, study their practice regimens. 

Side Note: I could not find Hope Solo uniforms. I was surprised the Nike or Puma did not exploit the popularity of Hope Solo and make her uniforms available. My daughter and I went to Dick's Sporting Goods and found green and purple Under Armor shirts that worked well.



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