We’re not taking credit, but…

Rancho San Diego Little League, a CoachDeck customer since 2008, won three their District Championship in three age divisions for the second consecutive year. Maybe even more impressive is that their 9-10 and 10-11 teams won their section and are playing for the S. California State Championship for the second year in a row. Read all about it here.

Leagues using CoachDeck report that their teams benefit around all-star time because of the consistency in coaching our product provides. When leagues select 2-3 kids from several teams to form one all-star team, if those kids have all been doing the same drills all season with their various coaches calling them by the same names, they don’t have to spend as much valuable practice time at the beginning of the tournament season learning a new system. Obviously, RSDLL has great players and great coaching, but if CoachDeck even played a minuscule role in their success, we’re proud. Again, we’re not saying it was all because of us, but…

Running of the Bulls

We’re big fans of Rick Reilly’s writing and so we thought we’d end the week with something light. Reilly recently completed the famous running of the bulls in Pamplona, Spain. His irreverent take on the experience will have you chuckling.

Kids learn creativity by playing

One of our Facebook fans just posted a very interesting article he found on NPR.org. For years, we’ve been talking about the importance of kids being able to play in unstructured fashion. This article really provides scientific evidence.

July issues of On Deck Newsletter are out

You can enjoy this month’s editions of On Deck now! Click here for our soccer newsletter and click here to read the baseball issue.

Five Super Ideas Your Organization Can Try

At CoachDeck we talk to thousands of youth sports organizations each year. And our conversations have uncovered some wonderful, creative examples of things clubs and leagues are doing to recognize achievement, give back to the community and enrich the experience for all. So here are five excellent programs that you can put into place with little or no cost, minor effort, but great results.

Student Honor Roll
Del Mar Little League in Del Mar, California has been a CoachDeck customer every year since we began in 2007. That fact alone proves their board of directors is pretty smart. But an even better indication is the “Academic All-American Program” they implemented for the 2010 season. Recognizing students for good grades is always a great idea and is simple and free using your organization’s website. See how DMLL did it here.

Give a Lifetime Achievement Award
Got a special volunteer who has been the bedrock of your organization for decades? What better honor to bestow on him or her than to name a field or other league property (snack bar, etc.) in their honor. Newspapers and other media outlets love to promote positive human-interest stories like these and this is the type of recognition that promotes and encourages volunteerism. Take a look at what Jersey City did to honor one of their own.

Create a Scholarship
Another unique way to honor a special volunteer or other member of your organization is to create an annual college scholarship in their name. The website for Malden East Little League’s provides an excellent example. This is something the league could fund with just a few hundred dollars each year, or is an outstanding program for a local donor to sponsor.

Soccer Club Helps Haiti
Marshfield Youth Soccer stepped up to help Haitian earthquake victims
. Closer to home, there are plenty of local, less affluent youth sports leagues in every city that would love to receive those old mitts, balls, bats and cleats lying around in your families’ garages. Organize an equipment drive at one of your upcoming events, such as Opening Day or Closing Ceremonies.

Create a Volunteer of the Year Award
Every year it seems there is that special someone who goes above and beyond. Why not set up a special section on your league website to recognize each year’s most dedicated volunteer? You can easily create a special “Volunteer of the Year” section of your website to preserve their names for posterity. This, perhaps along with a simple presentation of a plaque and dinner gift certificate at a monthly board meeting will suffice to make those special folks who go above and beyond the call of duty feel like heroes.

When organizations show their appreciation in these or any of the above manners, the natural by-product is that more and more people want to be included and offer to volunteer.

There are so many creative ideas to use youth sports as a vehicle to improve and enrich our communities. These are just a few. Are there other great ideas you can share?

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 brian@coachdeck.com.

Combination Play: Support and Movement with the Game

By Tom Turner

Does the player move with the game and combine with others? At the U-10 level, an increase in the speed of ball circulation, coupled with a more controlled rhythm of play are common features of play. At the U-11/12 level, those qualities can be taken a step further with the expectation of more formal combination play. At eleven, take-overs, wall passes and double passes are much more universal, and up-back-through combinations can be developed over time. Because of their still growing appreciation for midfield width and rhythm of play in large numbers, overlaps are still much less probable. All other combinations (passes to feet, passes to space, dribbling, and one-three’s) are already established at this age, meaning that eleven and twelve becomes the period when most of the combining elements in the game can be performed for the first time.

Use of Space

Does the player move with the game when not in possession? In general, attacking players try to open up the field in order to create possibilities for small-group play, while defenders try to limit the amount of time and space available for the attackers to either penetrate by passing or dribbling, or change the point of attack to a more open area. In both cases, individual players have responsibilities to move with the game relative to their position. Attacking players should be instructed how to play with their immediate small group or stay away from the ball, and defenders should be instructed how to move as a defensive block. The attacking concepts of width, depth, support and mobility are critical applications of spatial awareness, as are the defensive concepts of cover, balance and compactness.

Playing with “Back to Goal”

Is the player more comfortable when facing the opponent’s goal than when playing with their back to the opponent’s goal? Many young players are uncomfortable checking and receiving the ball with their back to goal; however, 8v8 games provide many opportunities to expose young players to this important and difficult skill within a positional structure. To play effectively with back to goal, players must be aware of the tactical possibilities for receiving the ball to feet or into open space; they must learn to identify passing lanes or open spaces; they must learn to judge when and how to run for the ball; they must learn how to lay the ball off to a supporting player or turn with the ball; and they must learn how to disguise their movements and intentions. Playing with back to goal is an important concept for both midfielders and forwards and it is a disservice to encourage kickball, or exclusively direct soccer at this age.

Defending

Does the player understand basic defensive concepts? When the ball is lost, a defender’s first instinct should be to try to win it back. If this is not possible, they should either look to recover goal-side behind the ball, or take up a new position for any counter-attacking possibilities. Individual decision-making in defense follows a basic hierarchy of thinking.

First, try to win the ball and keep possession when it is passed to an immediate opponent.

Second, try to knock the ball away from the immediate opponent. Third, try to deny the immediate opponent space to turn with the ball. Fourth, try to keep the immediate attacker running towards a sideline or into other defenders. Finally, when not in position to achieve any of the above, recover behind the ball and help the team defend.

Transition

Does the player mentally transition after a change in possession? At all levels, speed of transition is often a critical element in the scoring and preventing of goals. With that said, it is beneficial to use live practice activities that incorporate transition to and from goal. The issue of vision is closely related to transition in that a player’s first attacking thought should be to score a goal; if that is not possible, passing to the furthest player possible is the next best option.

Decision-Making

By U-11, many players can read the game with some degree of sophistication and can be helped to identify the “best” option for play, based on the following hierarchy. First, can the player shoot at goal? Second, can the player dribble into position to shoot at goal?

Third, can the player pass to someone who can score a goal? Fourth, can the player pass the ball forward to a teammate to maintain possession? Fifth, can the player pass the ball sideways or backwards to a teammate to maintain possession? Fifth, is the player under enough pressure to warrant a clearance?

Creativity

What is a creative team player? Three elements impact creativity. The first is technique, the second is tactical awareness, and the third is self-confidence. Players who have the audacity to think and act out of the ordinary may be future stars of the game and their willingness to take risks must be nurtured at every level. As players move towards the teen years, a critical paradox enters the coaching challenge. Creative players are necessary for making teams unpredictable and creative players are often frustrating to coach and play with because they rarely conform to standard team concepts. Creative players are not always the easiest individuals to coach, but creative players are worth their weight in gold and America has yet to produce a creative genius.

Tom Turner is a U.S. Soccer National Staff Coach, Region II Boys ODP Coach, Ohio North State Director of Coaching. He can be reached at coaching@oysan.org.

Update to Winning Baseball: The Two Strike Approach

Not only have there been two perfect games this season but, as of last night, five no-hitters. After Matt Garza’s no-no of the Tigers, MLB is on pace to set the single-season record. Amazingly, there were seven thrown in back-to-back seasons, (’90 and ’91). Based on the dates these were thrown (below) and the fact that there should already be a sixth this year, it seems a pretty good bet that we’re not done seeing no-hit performances.

1991 (5 individual and 2 combined)
May 1 — Nolan Ryan, Texas def. Toronto, 3-0.
May 23 — Tommy Greene, Philadelphia def. Montreal, 2-0.
July 13 — Bob Milacki (6), Mike Flanagan (1), Mark Williamson (1) and Gregg Olson (1), Baltimore def. Oakland, 2-0.
July 28 — x-Dennis Martinez, Montreal def. L.A. Dodgers, 2-0.
Aug. 11 — Wilson Alvarez, Chicago White Sox def. Baltimore, 7-0.
Aug. 26 — Bret Saberhagen, Kansas City def. Chicago White Sox, 7-0.
Sept. 11 — Kent Mercker (6 innings), Mark Wohlers (2) and Alejandro Pena (1) vs. San Diego, 1-0.

1990 (6 individual and 1 combined)
April 11 — Mark Langston (7) and Mike Witt (2), California Angels def. Seattle, 1-0.
June 2 — Randy Johnson, Seattle def. Detroit, 2-0.
June 11 — Nolan Ryan, Texas def. Oakland, 5-0.
June 29 — Dave Stewart, Oakland def. Toronto, 5-0.
June 29 — Fernando Valenzuela, L.A. Dodgers def. St. Louis, 6-0.
Aug. 15 — Terry Mulholland, Philadelphia def. San Francisco, 6-0.
Sept. 2 — Dave Stieb, Toronto def. Cleveland, 3-0.

Benchside Beverages: Wading Through the Sea of Choices

by Jodi Sheakley, MS, CFT

Let’s face it – by keeping pace with rotating practice and tournament schedules, navigating the trials of travel, and running in multiple directions, summer is anything but uncomplicated.   If you’re thirsting for craving a little simplicity, read on for help on wading through the murky sea of liquids on the market:  sports beverages, energy drinks, shakes, and tried-and-true H2O.

Sports Drinks

Many athletes favor drinks like Gatorade and Powerade to help replenish electrolyte stores and restore their potassium/sodium balance.  However, some still find the commercial beverages too sweet.  Dilute with water in a 1:1 ratio, or make your own by adding a teaspoon of mineral salt to a gallon of water.

Attention, Parents:  Don’t be a Matador!

While energy drinks like Red Bull are all the rage, this bull belongs in the ring, not on athletic field.  The hefty levels of caffeine cause sugar levels to surge, then plummet faster than you can say, “Toro! Toro!”  So resist the temptation to be a matador!  Allow your kids to max out on this bubbly, and they’ll be left with minimal energy reserves.

The Case for Chocolate

On the other hand, chocolate milk an excellent choice after your workout.  “If you can tolerate it, milk is an excellent recovery food since it has the carbohydrate-to-protein ration that you need – around three to four grams of carbs for every gram of protein,” says Roberta Anding, R.D, a sports nutritionist at Rice University and team dietician for the NFL’s Houston Texans.

Why chocolate milk?  Cocoa beans contain antioxidants, which help out with muscle repair.  The good news is that chocolate milk is usually a snack bar staple at most rinks.  Or, stash some Carnation Instant Breakfast packets in your travel bag to add to the plain white stuff.  With twice as much protein as an egg, double the calcium of a serving of yogurt, plus 21 vitamins and minerals, this powder is the type of nutrition that that muscles scream for after an intense training session.  Even better, add a banana (with a tablespoon of peanut butter) to ward off cramps, and you’re on your way to muscle recovery at warp speed!

Meal Replacement Drinks

Easily digested, whey protein drinks can be beneficial, if not too concentrated.  Be sure to read their labels critically, since many are loaded with sodium.

…And Steer Clear of Soda

Every can contains not only about nine teaspoons of sugar, but also the ability to deplete calcium from growing bones.  Besides, any liquid that’s capable of removing rust off the bumper of your vehicle does not belong in your body!  Enough said.

The Hydration Equation

Children are more sensitive than adults to overheating and dehydration.  Because muscles contain so much water, even a slight degree of dehydration can compromise athletic performance.  Perhaps the best insurance to combat fatigue, then, is to drink enough liquids in the days prior to major events.  William Sears, M.D., a leading pediatric physician, suggests drinking three-quarters of an ounce per pound in the three days before the event to “pre-hydrate.”  He offers the following guidelines:

  • Before the game:  2 cups
  • During the game: 4-8 oz. every 15-20 minutes
  • After the game:  after strenuous exercise, replenish with fluids, carbs and electrolytes used up during the game.  Drink 16-24 oz. of plain, cool water – slowly, to avoid nausea, heartburn and cramps (which may occur if your digestive system is overloaded too soon). Re-hydrating your body with plain water first will often prevent post-game fatigue, and stomach upset.

Therefore, despite the many beverages promoted for optimal sports performance, you may be relieved that you can still rely on plain, clear, un-carbonated, unadulterated, and readily-accessible H2O to transform your young athlete into “H2-Go.”  May your travels through the sea of beverage options be smooth sailing!

Jodi Sheakley, MS, CFT, operates Nutrivita Wellness, a wellness and fitness consulting practice, in Charlotte, North Carolina.  For additional information, please visit http://www.nutrivitawellness.com or email info@nutrivitawellness.com.

Winning Baseball: The Two Strike Approach

By Chance Reynolds, Former Professional Baseball Player

In the summer of 2010, there have already been two Perfect Games registered (well…actually, three, if you count Armando Galarraga’s outing in which Jim Joyce’s bad call with two outs in the ninth cost him a Perfect Game as well), and two more No-Hitters.  What makes this even more remarkable is the fact that prior to this season, there were only 18 Perfect Games recorded in history!  So what in the world could cause this remarkable change of events; a new pitching philosophy, a new pitch that no one has ever seen, more velocity, more control?  No, the truth is these Perfect Games have become possible now due to the extinction of a (former) staple of the game:  the Two Strike Approach.

When I speak to players today about having a Two Strike Approach, I often get a look of absolute befuddlement.  Players today do not understand how to move up in the box, how to move in on the plate, how to flatten out their bat, how to punch the ball the other way, and God forbid, choke up, in order to become a tough out at the plate.  They would prefer to swing for the fences at balls in the dirt while their batting averages suffer (and their teams suffer the consequences.)

In studying and teaching the Two Strike Approach, no one personified the ability to drive the ball early in the count, while “shortening up” and “putting the ball in play” better than Joe Dimaggio.  In 1941, the year Joe D. hit in 56 straight, few people know that he also hit 30 Home Runs that year, while striking out only 13 times!  He also had similar numbers in 1939 as well when he hit 30 more Home Runs, while striking out only 20 times that season.  And by the way, he was also named the American League M.V.P. at the conclusion of both seasons (and the Yankees also won the World Series both of those years!)

So how do we, as coaches, teach our guys to become better two-strike hitters? It’s really quite simple.  Physically speaking, it’s spreading out in the box (in order to keep your weight back), flattening out the bat (in order to hit line drives more consistently), looking the other way (to let the ball get deeper), and being quick with your hands (in order to be short to the ball).  Conceptually, it’s nothing more than moving two inches closer to the plate (to take away the outside pitch), moving two inches up in the box (to take away the curve ball), and choking up two inches on the bat (to have better bat control).  In other words, “2-2-2-2” (two strikes/two inches in/two inches up/two inches up on the bat).  Mentally, it’s finding a way to get on base, it’s competing at the plate, and it’s putting pressure on your opponent.

Ultimately, it’s playing Winning Baseball!

Former Professional Baseball Player, Chance Reynolds, is the Inventor of the Pitcher’s Nightmare Swing Trainer (www.pitchersnightmare.com).  Endorsed by 1991 N.L. M.V.P. and current Atlanta Braves Hitting Coach, Terry Pendleton, the Pitcher’s Nightmare Swing Trainer not only increases your bat speed, but teaches proper hitting fundamentals as well.

Big need for volunteers

Below is an article recently written in the Oregon Statesman Journal by Carol McAlice Currie. The article is about one of our newest CoachDeck customers, South Salem Little League.  As we contact youth organizations, there is an interesting phenomenon we observe over and over again, which is several volunteers doing most of the work. We often visit a Board of Directors page of the league website and see where the same person is listed in two or more positions. Or we’ll notice both a male and female sharing the same last name – probably a husband and wife, holding down four or five spots.

I like this article because I believe that too often, youth league volunteers are blamed for anything that goes wrong with their organization, while they are rarely praised for the innumerable things that go right. If you’ve ever had a gripe with your son or daughter’s youth sports league, volunteer to help. I’m pretty sure they’ll be able to find something for you to do. And if everyone chipped in, just about every complaint you had would go away.

Need is big for Little League volunteers

Volunteers by definition are those who work without pay, so when they do poorly it, can be difficult to fire them or put them on a personal improvement plan.

Increasingly, organizations are finding that gentle attempts to guide or direct volunteers are taken as insults, and too many of them walk off the job in dust clouds of bad feelings.

It’s a predicament that organizations such as South Salem Little League cannot afford.

With the regular season recently coming to a close, the league of more than 40 teams learned the hard way that some softball parents were unhappy with their off-the-field experiences.

One mom complained that the league made promises it didn’t keep. She said that when she and other parents registered their 8- to11-year-old daughters and paid more than $100 for them to play AAA Softball, they were told they’d each get their own helmets and fundraising cards, which they could either sell or use themselves for discounts with local shops.

All season, parents whose kids didn’t have helmets and were uncomfortable sharing the team’s loaners asked where the gear and cards were. They were assured they were on the way.

The parents, however, never saw the promised goods, and their calls and reminders to the coach and league officials never were returned.

Mike Spidell, the volunteer president of SSLL, admits he dropped the ball.

While it would be easy for Spidell to pass the buck and fault the volunteer coach for failing to pick up and deliver the helmets (which are required to bat in Little League and most ball sports), he won’t.

“We have cases of the helmets and hundreds of the cards, and most parents and kids got them,” Spidell said. “It was just a matter of getting the rest distributed, and that’s where the ball got dropped.

“We tend to only get the complaints when the season is over, and then it’s harder to follow through. It’s my fault, and I apologize.”

It’s hard enough to get volunteers these days, he said, and being desperate for more people to help out, he’s unwilling to take a crack at one volunteer for fear of alienating others.

Spidell said he will give the disillusioned mom(s) a full refund for this year, but he hopes she’ll bring her daughter back next year for another season. If she does, registration is on the league, he said.

“New players are entitled to a helmet, and we didn’t do a good enough job of providing that. But we hope that won’t prevent them from coming back and giving (Little League) another chance.”

He’s also urging more parents and grandparents to offer their time, and honor their commitment.

If even a few more stepped forward — he estimates that softball gets about a 10th of the attention and volunteers it needs — the organization would run more smoothly.

This is not a new plea for help, and I should know. I was a softball parent in this community for 13 years.

I never met Spidell during my softball tenure, but I’ve learned a few things about him.

-He personally helped improve the softball fields at Leslie Middle School, turning them into a first-rate complex where the Little League’s District 7 softball all-star games have been held for several seasons.

-He’ll be in court next week watching the prosecution of three adults. They were charged with torching the league’s concession stand earlier this year. His league offered a $1,000 reward for information leading to the arrest because “it cares about what happens to LL softball, and were delighted when someone came forward about the arson.”

-His league continues to be a watchdog in the community, offering rewards for leads about vandalism to the school grounds as well as the softball fields.

-His passion is to promote softball, even though he hasn’t had children in Little League for more than six years.

The community benefits from organizations like Little League — and volunteers like Spidell.

Donating money is great, but your time can be more important.

The coach who neglected to pick up the helmets was an unpaid volunteer with a life that probably took precedence over his coaching duties. He might have delegated the task to another parent — if one had stepped forward.