Recently we published an open letter to Derek Jeter, thanking him for his 20 years of class conduct on and off the field. In an interview with Today’s Matt Lauer, Jeter explains why he never strayed. In part, he says, he “never wanted to embarrass his parents. “I’ve always had tried to treat people with respect, the way I wanted to be treated,” the 14-time All Star said in a “Today” show interview that aired Wednesday. “I’ve always been very cautious with what I do. I started at a young age and I’ve always had the mentality that I never wanted to embarrass my parents. That fear is still there.” Courtesy NBCNewYork.com, Cathy Rainone.
With the close of the 2014 Major League Baseball regular season came the final chapter in one of the greatest stories in the modern sports era when longtime New York Yankee Derek Jeter stepped off the field for the final time. He leaves a hole in baseball, American sports, and our national fabric that won’t soon be filled. If I could write a letter to him to thank him for what he has meant to me, my children and all sports fans, here’s what I’d say:
I would like to think that if I hadn’t been a lifelong Yankee fan I’d still be writing you this letter. For instance, after you retire, I believe my new favorite player will be Dustin Pedroia of our arch-rival Red Sox. But I am a lifelong Yankee fan which makes the fact that you were in pinstripes your entire career all the more special and magical.
I’ve got four children, and I raised them all to cheer for the pinstripes. The oldest three are boys, 23, 21 and 19, and the girl is 17. So you can do the math. None of them has ever known their favorite team without Derek Jeter. Until now. The boys all still play baseball; the youngest two in college and the oldest just finished his first season in the pros. Obviously, we’re pretty into the sport and always have been. Some of my fondest memories are when my boys were little and we watched those great Yankee teams of the late 90’s and 2000’s winning playoff and World Series games. We’d all jump out of our chairs, high-five, even hug when there would be a game-winning hit or the final out in the ninth. None of us will ever forget those moments.
But is was much more than just the winning and the championships that made us love you. Other players have been on winning teams. And it wasn’t just your talent that set you apart. There are probably better fielders, better hitters, guys who are faster or have better arms. What makes me forever grateful that you were, for twenty years, the best player on my kids’ and my favorite team is one simple thing: You never let us down.
I raised my children to believe that an honest loss is better than a dishonest win. I instilled in them that it is always wrong to cheat. They grew up learning never to cheat an opponent, a teammate, the system – and especially don’t cheat yourself. Yet all around them, every day, there was evidence to the contrary. Athletes cheated with performance-enhancing drugs, made millions of dollars, and if they were caught, were instantly forgiven by hometown fans who apparently didn’t care how the wins came about. Men who my boys admired were revealed to be cheating on their wives and abandoning their families, only to be shown happily in the company of an actress or supermodel. And, on the field, guys who routinely didn’t try their hardest when their team needed them were rewarded with new and bigger contracts.
So you can imagine how, for years, as my young kids wore their Number 2 jerseys almost every day and we watched ESPN to hear about another athlete scandal, I warned them you could be next. I said ‘Don’t be too surprised if someday we find out Jeter isn’t all he appears to be either. We don’t know any of these people. They look like great guys for a while but they may not really be.’ I didn’t want them to deify you because I knew how absolutely crestfallen they’d be, how cynical they’d become, if one morning you were the lead story on the news and had been caught doing something unethical.
I’m sure you’re not perfect. But after playing in New York for all those years, with reporters knowing that getting some dirt on Derek Jeter would be the biggest scoop in their career, we never saw anything negative. And that’s incredible. No bar fights, no baby mommas or DUI’s. No reporters cursed out after asking annoying questions. And no PED’s. I can’t imagine the temptation, playing in an era when so many of your peers were doing it. But you stayed clean and still put up hall-of-fame numbers. The right way. Sure you dated a lot of pretty women – good for you. But you were wise enough not to start a family with someone who you weren’t going to stay with. I think you plan on being there for your children when you have them. Maybe that’s your legacy. You don’t break kids’ hearts.
So, I’d like to thank you, Captain, for the past twenty years. For all the thrills, the hustle, the integrity, and for proving to my family for two decades that you can be a great player and a great gentleman. I doubt we’ll ever again have someone on our favorite team who will remotely compare. But I can’t begin to tell you how grateful I am that for a good chunk of our lives we had you.
Brian Gotta is a former professional youth baseball coach and current volunteer Little League coach and board member. He is the President of CoachDeck and also author of four youth sports novels which can be found at www.sportsbooks4kids.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.
By Alan Jaeger
Born and raised in sunny, southern California, you might wonder why I feel a need to write an article about a throwing program for inclement weather. Well, the truth be told is that this question has come up a great deal in the past few years. Coaches and players are beginning to realize that being confined to a limited space, indoors, for an extended period of time in the Fall/Winter months (3-5 months in some states) can significantly limit the conditioning and development of the arm. This reality is especially hitting home for those coaches and players who have experienced the tremendous benefits of distance throwing (Long Toss), and are now realizing how disadvantageous it is to suppress the arms needs to stretch out, lengthen and condition properly during this 3-5 month window.
This 3-5 month window, which can start as early as October and can last as late as March, often forces players to train indoors in facilities that may be significantly limited by height and distance constraints (e.g. basketball gym). As you will see throughout this article, this 3-5 month window, when coaches and players often feel that they can’t get the necessary work or conditioning in because they are forced indoors, is one of the most important periods in the calendar year. Quite simply, it represents a huge chunk of time when players can either “build on their base”, or face the real possibility that their arms will either stagnate or regress.
The reality is that while warm weathered parts of the country have the luxury to train outdoors, without throwing limitations, schools that are forced indoors for long periods of time are at a major disadvantage come Spring time if they don’t know how to insure that players get the necessary conditioning indoors (distance throwing/long toss). Going indoors can seem very limiting when it comes to maintaining a good throwing program but with a little creativity players can find ways to get the necessary distances of 200-300 feet even if the length of the indoor facility is no greater than 120 feet.
Considering that the key to any throwing program is to build the base of the arm correctly (September/October), the next most important factor is to ensure that this base is maintained or enhanced through the remainder of the Fall/Winter (and eventually, into the Spring). This period between November and March is a critical time to not only deepen the base that was built in September/October, but to insure that the players make a smooth transition once they get outdoors early in the Spring, without having to “rush” into shape. The arm should be in shape because of how it was properly conditioned throughout the Fall/Winter months, despite the fact that it was confined to indoor throwing.
This article has been written with this in mind.
Two Keys To Conditioning Indoors: Surgical Tubing and Long Toss
For those players or teams that have used the first two months (September/October) to condition their arms well on a Long Toss Throwing Program (see jaegersports.com/articles) the last thing you want to have happen is for your players to go from a great conditioning mode to “under conditioning” for 3-5 months because of being “limited” indoors. The arm needs to continue to train in a manner that allows it to fully condition, and that means it needs to find a way to stretch out (Long Toss) to distances that are consistent with the distances that are provided outdoors.
There are two key factors with regard to developing and maintaining the health, strength and endurance of the arm through the Fall/Winter months — number one is distance throwing or long toss, and a close second is surgical tubing exercises. There isn’t anything that’s a close third other than pitchers getting the necessary work off the mound at the appropriate time.
Building a “base”, progressively and thoroughly, is the most important principle in developing arm health, strength and endurance. And maintaining this base by conditioning properly throughout the Fall/Winter is of extreme importance if you want to use the Fall/Winter to strengthen, rather than deplete this base. “Proper” conditioning starts and ends with Long Toss and Surgical Tubing — these are the only two factors that are not optional.
Once a team is forced to go indoors due to inclement weather these are the two essential ways to maintain your conditioning through the Fall, Winter and into the Spring. If you are fortunate enough to have an indoor facility (field house/football field) that allows you to consistently get out to 250 feet or more, than simply follow your routine as if you are outdoors. But for most of the schools out there, a basketball gym, etc, seems to be more of the norm, and getting distance is a real issue.
Key #1: Surgical Tubing
Though you may be limited by the distance (e.g. 120 feet) and/or the height of your indoor facility you can still effectively supplement the “conditioning” of the arm by adding repetitions to your surgical tubing exercises prior to, and independent of your throwing program.
Fortunately, the net effect of increasing your reps helps the arm “make up” for the lack of throwing each day. This is especially effective by adding reps to the forward throwing motion (literally, the same throwing motion used as if you were “throwing” the surgical tubing like a baseball), which is the last surgical tubing exercise done prior to that days throwing session (see youtube: j-bands exercises). This forward motion exercise bests “simulates“ the arms throwing motion because, quite simply, the arm is getting the sensation that it is throwing.
There is actually a “Long Toss” effect without even picking up a ball because “throwing” the tubing in a progressive way (start with low resistance and slowly add resistance) allows the arm to “open up” progressively with each passing repetition, in the same manner that you start out by playing light catch, and slowly add more effort to each throw. Because the arm has had a chance to “measure”, for example, the first 25 reps as a stretch, adding reps begins to challenge the arm as if the distance behind the throws is increasing.
Again, this is all done in a safe manner because the arm is progressively being asked to “throw” through more resistance after the arm has already been safely warmed up (the increased resistance is created by slowly moving away from the fence or object that you have clipped the surgical tubing on to).
Over time, a player may actually increase from a distance of 3 feet from the fence and 25 reps, to 4 or 5 feet from the fence and 3 sets of 30 reps. This is ideal for the arm because it is going through basically the same range of motion as if it is throwing, and the resistance (distance) is being increased in a very progressive way. Surgical tubing is not only going to help establish a great base but it’s going to also increase the arm’s endurance in and of itself and best prepare the arm to maximize the effect of the actual throwing program on that given day. (Next: “Long-tossing Indoors” and “A Smoother Transition to Spring”)
Alan Jaeger has consulted with several high school/college programs including UCLA, Arizona and Cal State Fullerton, and MLB Organizations including the Texas Rangers, Los Angeles Angels and Cleveland Indians. For more information about Jaeger Sports and their products (“Thrive On Throwing 2” DVD or Digital Download, J-Bands and Mental Training Book, “Getting Focused, Staying Focused”), please visit their website at www.jaegersports.com or call 310-665-0746. You may also download additional articles/videos at http://www.jaegersports.com/press_articles.php/, and Youtube, keyword jaeger sports. Twitter: @jaegersports
By John O’Sullivan
Let me be blunt and scream this from the rooftop: the best athletes PLAY sports. They don’t work them, they play them. When sport becomes more work than play, athletes struggle, they grind, and if they cannot get back to playing instead of working, they eventually drop out. From youth to pros, when the fun goes, soon to follow is performance.
But what about developing future athletes? What is the role of play in the training and advancement of aspiring young players to the next level? Should they be practicing or playing sports? If they do both, is one more important than the other?
For kids under 12, I believe wholeheartedly the answer is yes. And that answer is PLAY!
The role of deliberate practice in skill acquisition is a hot topic. Without rehashing everything I have written on the subject in the past, simply defined deliberate practice is the focused improvement through repetitive activity, continual feedback and correction, and the delay of immediate gratification in pursuit of long term goals. There is no question that expert performers accumulate many hours of deliberate practice, and there is a strong correlation between hours of deliberate practice and performance level in elite performers.
What gets lost in the focus on practice is the massive importance of deliberate play. Researcher Jean Cote defines deliberate play as “activities such as backyard soccer or street basketball that are regulated by age-adapted rules and are set up and monitored by the children or adults engaged in the activity. These activities are intrinsically motivating, provide immediate gratification and are specifically designed to maximize enjoyment.”
In our increasingly structured world of youth sports, coupled with the decline of recess and playground pick up games, deliberate practice is increasingly emphasized, and play is deemphasized. Yet is this helping us develop better athletes? I say no.
First, at the very core of great athletes is a burning passion and love of the game. That love and enjoyment provides them with the intrinsic motivation to pursue sport excellence. While coaching can foster this love, and provide an athlete with the feedback needed to develop skill, the flame must be fed primarily by the athlete and not the coach. Kids play sports because they are fun. Sports must belong to them. Play instills this type of love and makes it fun, while practice often does not. Instilling love of the game early on sets up a player mentally to engage in deliberate practice later on.
Second, an early focus on deliberate practice and pursuit of long term success, instead of playing for the love of the game, can cause motivation to become extrinsic, rather than intrinsic. Athletes motivated extrinsically by championships, fame and social identity tied to athletic success have been shown to burnout at a much higher rate than athletes who participate for enjoyment. They are also more likely to protect that identity through cheating and other maladaptive behaviors designed to continue successful outcomes.
Third, free play and multi-sport play promotes the development of better all around athleticism. As children play less and practice more (often in a single sport) using sport specific muscles and movements, experts in many sports have noticed a decline in the agility, balance and coordination skills of young athletes as compared to decades ago.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, play stimulates brain development. It hastens the growth of the brain centers that regulate emotion and control both attention and behavior. Play inspires thinking and adaptation, promoting creative problem solving and conflict resolution. It allows children to build their own games, define their own rules, and develop the cognitive skills that are needed not only for athletics, but in every aspect of life.
John O’Sullivan is the Founder of the Changing the Game Project, and author of the national bestseller Changing the Game: The Parents Guide to Raising Happy, High-Performing Athletes and Giving Youth Sports back to Our Kids. He is a longtime soccer player and coach on the youth, college and professional level, and a nationally known speaker on coaching and parenting in youth sports. His work has appeared in The Huffington Post, Soccer America, and SoccerWire.com, and he recently gave a TED talk on “Changing the Game in Youth Sports.”