Doctors Without Borders

Here in the US, while many have fallen on tough times, we know that what we’re experiencing is still, in many cases, nothing compared some of the most needy parts of the world. Just like one of our favorite causes, UNICEF, Doctors Without Borders is helping children everywhere. Even a small donation makes a huge difference. Look what your contribution can do:

$35 – Two high-energy meals every day to 200 children

$50 – Vaccinations for 50 people against meningitis, measles, polio or other deadly epidemics

$100  – Infection-fighting antibiotics to treat nearly 40 wounded patients

$250 – A sterilization kit for syringes and needles used in mobile

You can review a variety of contribution options here.

Year-end soccer party time

Cleats by Bill Hinds

Cleats

Are we having fun yet?

This email came across our desk from a Little League President who needed board input on a disciplinary matter. It sounds like this Board of Directors has their act together…too bad some of the parents don’t.

Hello fellow board members,

There is a situation that has come up that requires immediate board attention. I will brief you all via this email, then at the end I have the proposed actions to be taken. Please vote for the action you deem situation appropriate. Please do so ASAP. Thanks.

Here is the situation…

On Saturday past at the Major Tiger vs Red Sox game, there was a bit of a scuffle during a play at home plate in the last inning of the game. There was a runner on third base, when the batter grounded the ball back to the pitcher and took off for first base, the third base runner proceeded home to score the run. As a fielder choice play, the pitcher threw the ball to the catcher (who according to all testimonies received) clearly had the bell in PLENTY of time to tag the runner out. The runner did not attempt to avoid a home plate collision by sliding or by stopping. Some testimony states he did indeed drop his shoulder into the play, where other testimony states that was not seen. Needless to say the umpire called the runner out at home for NO OTHER REASON other than he was clearly out by the tag.

However, when the runner came in he collided with the catcher and they both hit the ground. They were entangled when they fell. The catcher (who still had the ball IN HIS HAND) attempted to get up to throw the ball to the first baseman to get the runner out at first. Because the two (catcher and runner) were entangled from the collision, the catcher was unsuccessful in his attempt to get up with out then re tripping over the runner hence stepping on his chest that was proceeded by a minor kick with the cleat. All of the actions on the catcher’s part have been deemed ACCIDENTAL and NOT INTENTIONAL at all by the officials; however, the mother of the runner (steppee) charged the fence and began to scream and yell at the officials and the catcher. She was using excessive profanity toward the situation that escalated into several other parents jumping from the bleachers as well to chime in. A coach of the steppee was coaching third base and attempted to quiet the spectator (his own wife) as well as the manager of the catcher (stepper) came out of his dug out and shouted to the mother of the steppee to please watch her language and to please calm down as there are children present and her behavior is not acceptable.

There were two board members at the game that witnessed the entire event and they quickly stepped up and defused the situation and made attempts to talk to all parties involved, with the exception of the mother of the steppee. Immediately after the play was finished she went to the dugout, pulled her son from it and ripped his shirt off screaming at the catcher and the umpire that her son had in fact been intentionally stepped on and why weren’t they going to do anything about it. She then left the field with the steppee.

The two board members never did get a chance to talk to the mother of the steppee. They did, however, talk to the home plate umpire who deemed the incident an accident. I also have received a letter of complaint from parent of the stepper, expressing her disapproval of the way the incident was (or rather was not) handled at the time it took place by all parties involved.

A meeting was held last night which included myself, the manager of both teams, the player agent, (one of the board members present & witness to the event), and the Umpire in Chief. At this meeting we discussed the situation in depth and we also came to the determination that the situation A) could have been handled differently by all parties involved B) the manager’s are going to be talking to the players involved to make sure that this is behind them.

Which brings me to the purpose of the email. The mother of the player was clearly upset at the fact her son had been stepped on and was also, looked to be, stepped on. However, her actions at the field and the profanity used by her even after she was asked by the coach (her husband), the opposing manager, and the board member present is a DIRECT VIOLATION of our “Parent Code of Conduct” which warrants disciplinary action be taken on our part as a board.

I believe the action necessary for such behavior is for the parent to be suspended from attending the next game, which is this upcoming Thursday evening.

Here’s where the vote comes in…

A) Do we want to suspend her from the next game?
OR
B) Do we want to suspend her until she can come before the board for disciplinary review?

Please get back to me ASAP with your vote…option A or option B so we can notify the parent in plenty of time.

Thanks for your immediate attention and response regarding this matter.

WWWD – What would Wooden do?

Or in this case, what would he say?

In case you missed it, recently Kareem Abdul-Jabbar complained that a statue of himself had not been erected outside of the Lakers’ Staples Center. Columnist T.J. Simers wondered what one of Abdul-Jabbar’s mentors, John Wooden, might have said, were he still here. From Simers’ column:

There’s no argument Kareem deserves a statue, but how petty and unbecoming is it to have the model for such a statue arguing what’s the delay?

What would John Wooden have said — the question submitted to a friend?

“Goodness gracious, sakes alive, Lewis, be humble,” came the email reply, a quick check to make sure it wasn’t being sent from heaven.com.

“Fame is man-given. Be grateful. Conceit is self-given. Be careful.”

What happens when our sports heroes fail us?

It’s bound to happen. Your son or daughter’s favorite players are discovered to be among the many who have done performance-enhancing drugs. Or, it could be they’re a cheater of a different kind – in their marriage. Perhaps they’ve joined the ignominious list of athletes who’ve been arrested for DUI, battery or other crimes. When the “heroes” our children look up to fall from grace before our eyes, what should we tell them?

According to Marianne Engle, Ph.D., Clinical Assistant Professor of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at NYU, “Parents should help children understand that reaching star level takes a combination of extraordinary physical ability, strong ambition, good opportunities, luck and back-breaking hard work. Very few achieve this degree of prominence,” she says, “And the process doesn’t guarantee that the athlete has developed an admirable character, moral values or strategies to deal with stress. So when talking about the particular athlete, make sure to separate sports ability from character.”

In other words, sure, they can do a windmill jam, hit the ball 500 feet or make the most amazing goal you’ve ever seen, and we can all admire what they do on the field. But leave the admiration there. Remember that off the field, they’re simply people, not unlike the rest of us, who sometimes make mistakes. In every walk of life there are good people who follow rules and abide by the law, and there are others who don’t. The biggest difference being that when sports stars do something wrong, we’ll find out about it on the news.

It would be nice to believe that we could be careful when choosing the athletes our children idolize, so as to minimize the potential for disappointment. But as we’ve all learned in the past several years, even some who most seemed to have it all together have stumbled.

Unfortunately, it appears that the best course of action is to set a child’s expectation low. There have been times I’ve watched interviews of our family’s favorite players, and they came off as articulate, humble and well-intentioned. Yet I would remind my admiring kids that just because they seem like great guys in a 30-second interview doesn’t necessarily mean they are in private.

It is also important to share stories of “real” heroes to ensure that our children have the proper perspective. Two of my teenage sons recently got hooked on the “Band of Brothers” series on A &E. It was easy to point out the magnitude of what these those young soldiers did during World War II, compared to the guys they watch on Sportscenter.

So the best course of action may be preemptive. Don’t wait until your child’s idols let you down and then try to help them understand why – but rather impress upon them early that while we can cheer for athletes to help our team win, we don’t know if they’re of strong character. We can hope they are, but not depend on it.

The toughest thing to explain is how athletes can take part in unethical and illegal activities, and still live a life of wealth and opulence. How can we convince our kids what a player did really was a mistake when the next story we hear is about the multimillion dollar contract extension he just signed?

I guess it comes down to hoping our kids understand that while money and fame may be nice, there is more satisfaction in knowing you lived your life without resorting to cheating, lying, or hurting others to achieve your goals. It is about how you’ll be remembered by others and maybe more importantly, how you’ll feel about yourself.

Or, as the elegant, early 20th century sportswriter Grantland Rice wrote:
For when the One Great Scorer comes
To write against your name,
He marks-not that you won or lost-
But how you played the game.

OnDeck Newsletter goes out tomorrow

Look for the May edition of our popular OnDeck Newsletter tomorrow, May 24. If you’d like to view previous issues, or sign up to receive OnDeck directly each month, click here. There are loads of great articles in this month’s editions.

After the rapture

Another delightful and thought-provoking column from Rick Reilly in case you missed it. Thankfully, we’re all still here to read it.

Goals and expectations

By Dr. Patrick Cohn

One of the more difficult juggling acts that you have to learn to pull off as an athlete if you want to most consistently be a peak performer is how to effectively use and balance your goals and expectations. Before I explain, let’s start with some simple definitions: Goals & Expectations: What are they? Even though these have slightly different meanings, I’m going to be using them interchangeably for this article.

Goals and expectations are related to the OUTCOME. They are always FUTURE oriented. They reflect what you WANT out of your sport, from a particular season or from this immediate performance. Goals and expectations reflect what you hope to accomplish and what would make you feel successful as an athlete.

Having goals or expectations for yourself is absolutely critical if you want to go anywhere in your sport. Your goals/expectations serve as a TARGET to aim for. They give all your training efforts a MEANING and a DIRECTION. They also provide the FUEL and ENERGY that you’ll need to consistently move forward towards success and turning your athletic dream into a present day reality. Without well-defined goals, your overall training will be haphazard, misdirected and disorganized. Without clearly defined goals your efforts will be inconsistent at best. Some days you’ll train hard, others you’ll just go through the motions. Goals serve as a source of motivation to keep you keeping on, especially when the going gets rough and discouragement sets in.

When you have goals and expectations for yourself, you are setting a higher standard of performance. You are internally demanding more of yourself. You are challenging yourself. Such high standards and challenges are necessary for you to take your training to the next level. It’s these inner demands that you place on yourself that will ultimately propel you forward towards your dream. In the end, the hope is that the demands that you place on yourself will make you a much better person and athlete as they move you towards personal excellence. In this way, your goals and expectations help you “push your envelope” and step outside of your comfort zone.

Your goals and expectations tend to function in your brain much like a guided missile system does in a rocket. The system programs the rocket engine towards the target and keeps it on track. If the missile gets blown a few degrees off its’ course by strong winds, the inner tracking system automatically corrects and reorients the missile so it gets back on target. Without this inner guidance system, the missile would just fly aimlessly around and around until it crashes, runs out of fuel or the engines break down. Your goals and expectations function in much the same way. They will organize and direct your training efforts. They will keep you moving in the targeted direction. If you get knocked off track, distracted or temporarily sidelined, your goals and expectations will help you find the strength and discipline to get back onto the proper path.

But more than this, as I mentioned, your goals and expectations also serve as an all important fuel for that guided missile system. It’s your goals and expectations that keep you motivated to train. Your goals provide you with an important answer to the often-asked questions: “Why bother?” “What’s the point of all this hard work?” “Why am I making all these sacrifices for anyway?” “The coach isn’t looking now, why should I keep going hard?”  After such a devastating failure, why should I continue to try?” Having goals and expectations for yourself helps you get through the sometimes very rough patches of your athletic career and the oftentimes tough, daily grind of training. They are your answer to all of these “why” questions. Simply put, your goals and expectations, if they truly belong to YOU and are genuinely important to YOU, will provide you with a compelling enough reason to sacrifice, work hard and discipline yourself. If your goals don’t really belong to you, if your parents or coaches force them on you, if you’re just doing this to make others happy, then when the going gets rough, your reaction will be to want to pack it up, hit the road and bail out.

One of the key points that I want to make here is that taking your goals and expectations with you when you go to practice is critical to your ultimate success as an athlete. In practice they represent an extremely valuable piece of training equipment. If you can ask yourself, “How is what I’m doing today going to help me get to my goals?” whenever you train, then the quality and intensity of your training will always be high. As a result you will be more focused, your practices will have more meaning to you and therefore, you’ll accomplish far more than those who don’t have a clear purpose in mind whenever they train. Asking yourself this one simple question in practice, over and over again on a daily basis, throughout the course of the season can easily make the difference between success and failure, winning and losing, successfully reaching your goals or not. But this is only one part of the championship formula when using goals and expectations.

The other just as critical part is to know when it’s time to mentally set your goals and expectations aside. Perhaps one of the more common and costly mental mistakes made by athletes at every level is to take their goals and expectations with them into the competitive playing arena. It’s this mental mistake that leads to choking, tight, tentative performances and bitter disappointment. Walk on the basketball court, as an example, for a big game with your expectations under your arm (“I’ve got to score at least 12 points!”) and you’ll be sure to leave an unhappy and frustrated underachiever. This is one of the cardinal rules in sports psychology and peak performance. Take your goals with you whenever you practice and train, but NEVER, EVER when you compete and it counts. Let me repeat this because it is so important. DO NOT BRING YOUR GOALS AND EXPECTATIONS WITH YOU WHEN YOU COMPETE. Why?

While your goals and expectations may motivate and focus you in practice, they rarely work that kind of positive way in competition. Concentrating on your goals when you compete, focusing on how important this game, match or race may be, thinking about the outcome of the contest and how you really need to beat this opponent or that one will distract you from what you need to focus on in order to perform to your potential and make you nervous at the same time. At competition time, your goals and expectations will weigh you down and sink you. They will tighten your muscles, kill your nerve and fill your heart with dread. It’s this outcome focus on goals and expectations that is so poisonous to the athlete’s performance.

An emphasis on outcome, (goals & expectations), right before you compete will always crank up the level of seriousness of the performance and what’s at stake, while simultaneously killing your fun and enjoyment. This is a deadly one-two combination that will KO your performance! If you’re not having fun going into and during a performance, then you will be physically and mentally tight and it will be IMPOSSIBLE for you to play to your potential. Regular readers of this newsletter know that THE secret to playing your best is being loose and relaxed while you’re performing.

So take your goals with you when you train. Think about why you’re training and what’s at stake. Try to connect what you’re doing right now in practice with your ultimate goal. However, understand that when you go to compete you must leave your goals back home. Do not bring your goals and expectations into the competition. Forget about what’s at stake, who your opponent is, how important this competition may be or who’s in the stands watching you. If you get it into your head that you “have to,” “got to,” “need to,” “must,” in relation to your performance in this game or match, then you are overly focused on outcome and, as a result, will be much more likely to choke your guts out.

Keep in mind that the way to get that all-important victory is a paradox. If you really want to win then winning must be the farthest thing from your mind at game time. If you really want to kick your rival’s butt, then you must banish thoughts of him/her from your mind and instead concentrate on yourself. If you desperately want to impress the coaches or a scout watching, then your focus must be on YOU and NOT on THEM! You will get what you WANT when you DON’T focus on it during\ competition. Similarly, you will get exactly what you DON’T want during competition when you focus on what you WANT too much.

When I work with athletes and teams I will frequently suggest to them the following simple exercise a few days before a big competition: “Write down everything that you want to have happen, all your outcome goals and expectations. Put them all down on paper and take one last good look at them. When you’re done examining them, take all those outcome goals and lock them in a drawer, out of sight. Do NOT take them out and look at them until AFTER the competition is over!” This is the best way to insure that you have the best chance to perform at your best. Goals and expectations are part of your practice “equipment.” Like Sammy Sosa’s corked bat, they are only to be used in practice and NEVER when it really counts!

Award winning parenting writer Lisa Cohn and Youth Sports Psychology expert Dr. Patrick Cohn are co-founders of The Ultimate Sports Parent. Pick up their free e-book, “Ten Tips to Improve Confidence and Success in Young Athletes” by visiting http://www.youthsportspsychology.com

Soccer tournaments, my true beliefs

By Adrian Parrish

Fact: Soccer Tournaments are not helping with the development of youth soccer throughout the US. There are lots of articles about the nation becoming overly-crazed on soccer tournaments, yet through the whole US Soccer hierarchy we keep promoting and creating more, as well as encouraging teams to participate in them. Why? So money can be made? Tournaments are a quick way for clubs or organizations to make a quick buck and the higher the caliber of teams participating the more expensive the entry fee becomes, but the focus of player development does not increase.

My loathe of tournaments does not come from the time I refused to take a depleted team to a weekend event packed with four games one week before the league started, which probably lead to me finally being fired from coaching the team. Nor does it come from battling to change the mentality of 30 coaches at a club where I was the Director of Coaching. It simply comes from having never been to or seen a tournament that understands that the development of players should come first. Perhaps US Youth Soccer State and Regional Events Tournaments have a better understanding, but I even have some concerns about they way these are run.

Physically I feel I still have a decent level of fitness, but I could not ever really imagine myself participating in four, sixty minute games that realistically take place over less than 48 hours. Yet we ask youth soccer players, who are still developing physically, to do this. When I discuss tournaments with youth soccer coaches I will ask them if they would play in this amount of games during this short period of time and I always receive the same response; “No”.

The pressure of winning, or better yet performing at the highest level tournaments so players can achieve the magnificent full ride scholarship to a division one college, has resulted in teams traveling around the country and spending less time on the training ground where the true development should be taking place. Of course you need to compete and play games otherwise that would be like asking professional actors on Broadway to rehearse their entire careers and never perform in front of a sold out crowd. But I am aware of teams with 11 year-old girls traveling to twelve tournaments a season, so in less then 4 months that probably participated in almost 50 games. When did the practicing and development take place? I know when the burning out of youth soccer players and families came about.

During coach and parent education clinics I will often show the A&E documentary “Playing to Extremes”. This program covers several children and adolescents who are involved with youth sports such as hockey, ice skating and soccer. The soccer clip follows a family who spend almost every weekend of their lives traveling up and down the east coast to tournaments. Winning these events has become part of their expectations, yet when they film the young soccer player displaying his trophies won at tournaments he pulls out a cardboard box from his closet. My conclusion of this footage would be that the child does not care about the winning and would probably enjoy having some weekends of being a child. Further in the filming the father shows his disappointment in a way that has become costumed of soccer parents.

Tournaments do offer the opportunity for coaches to put teams in to a team-building environment, as well as providing the players the chance to play against some different competition. I don’t have too many problems with entering tournaments for this reason, but realistically this should probably be limited to three or four tournaments a year including State Cup, which should not be considered an extra event. For at lot of teams, seasons are made or broken by how successful they are in State Cups and I could question if it is because of this event that the nation has become tournament crazed. At the 2007 Kentucky Youth Soccer Association I was shocked with the lack of teams who tried to play “attractive soccer” at a fear of losing. Coaches and parents are struggling to find ways of measuring success other than by results. Perhaps if a child continues to stay playing, then the coach has been successful.

Websites have been created on where youth teams are ranked nationally and soccer magazines, which usually promote the development of the game, also create issues that focus on tournaments and on which teams are the most successful at these events. During his time as the National Team coach, Bruce Arena said “There are only two teams in this nation that need to be concerned about results, the Men’s & Women’s National Teams”. Therefore the only rankings we should care about are those created by FIFA.

Of course we see the top teams at club and the national level participating in tournaments, but the players participating experience a lot of rest in between games, and even here there are some concerns about these players over-playing. Realistically it would be impossible for a hosting organization to set up their tournament in this kind of format, so the best option is to limit teams to playing one game a day.

I may just be one voice with one opinion that will never change a nation, just like we will never bring back the generation of the Sandlot Kids (perhaps that should be my discussion for another time). But unlike some, I am pleased that the United States Soccer Federation has created the academy program. It will fit in better with the practice to game ratio which is encompassed by European, African and South American nations. By no means does this mean that the US will now produce a Men’s World Cup winning team but it may make some over enthusiastic coaches, parents and clubs realize that the true development takes place on the training fields.

Adrian Parrish is the Director of Coach & Player Development for the Kentucky Youth Soccer Association. He is responsible for the Coaching Education Program and the management of the Olympic Development Program. A native of Louth, England, Parish currently possesses a USSF “A” License, UEFA “A” License (Pending), and the US Youth Soccer National Youth License. He can be reached at adrianparrish@kysoccer.net

Seven ways to quickly improve baseball pitching velocity and mechanics

By Dick Mills

Pitching velocity has been proven to come from the body and not the arm so that energy is quickly built and then passed off as late as possible to the arm.  It does not have to take weeks or months to improve pitching velocity. It is simply a matter of understanding which aspects of mechanics must be improved so that more energy is available to get to the ball.

Here is how you can virtually guarantee more pitching velocity very quickly:

These would be some of the elements to practice:

1. Develop a long stride to at least 100% of the pitcher’s height.

2. Move the front hip at the target from a slightly bent but not collapsed leg before the ball comes out of the glove

3. Complete back leg drive before landing – the back leg should straighten before landing – you want a complete push-off action

4. Land flat footed in a straight line toward the plate – the foot will be either pointed straight ahead or slightly angled

5. Brace-up the front leg and hip at landing so the front knee does not continue to drift forward – the arm should be up and semi-cocked and positioned behind the head

6. Flex the trunk forward (slam trap door shut) until the back is close to parallel to the ground.

7. Finally…remove any deliberate delays, hesitations, slowing movements or swinging the leg

Other tips:

  • Start with upright posture – no leaning back or flexed forward
  • Don’t collapse the back leg – move from a stable knee position
  • Keep the entire back foot down against the ground and then peel the foot away before landing to extend the back leg
  • Land flat-footed on the midline
  • Keep the throwing arm back until the front leg plants and trunk starts to rotate
  • At landing make sure the back hip is higher than the front hip

Make sure the hips and trunk are facing the hitter before the throwing arm extends into ball release

It would be a matter of simply determining which action would have the most impact.

There are dozens upon dozens of major league pitchers who could increase velocity up to 5 mph or more by using these techniques rather than moving slow or trying to generate momentum too late in the delivery.

But what do they do? Long toss and flat ground throwing and lift weights. Focusing on building arm strength will not improve pitching velocity. Only focusing on improving mechanics will.

But remember this… there are no secrets to pitching improvement. Just sound sports science principles that we apply to pitching that just make common sense. No magic spoken here.

Dick Mills was a pitcher with the Boston Red Sox and has been a pitching instructor for his entire adult life. He is the first instructor to use sports science research as the foundation for teaching velocity and control while reducing the risk of arm injuries. Dick was a faculty member for the American Sports Medicine Institute’s 27th annual Course In Baseball Injuries in January, 2009. His website, pitching.com, has been online since August of 1996, helping over 20,000 pitching prospects from Little League to pro baseball improve their mechanics and velocity.