Let ’em play football!

I have two friends with teenage sons who always wanted to play football, but who did not allow their kids to play football because of injury concerns. As I’ve written before, when my sons were playing in high school, I worried every day about the possibility of their sustaining a serious injury.

However, when they were playing Pop Warner at age while in grade school, it wasn’t as much of a concern. If you’ve ever watched tackling at that level, it is really more like wrestling. There are no flying human missiles like you see on TV at the college and pro level, no high-impact helmet-to-helmet collisions. Yes, one of my sons did sustain a concussion playing football, and that’s serious, but another son got a concussion when a ground ball took a bad bounce and hit him in the chin. About the worst injuries I heard of at the youth football level were broken legs or arms, and there were a couple bad ones. But by and large, injuries that caused players to miss multiple games were rare. And serious injuries, in my limited experience, non-existent.

That doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. I am just of the opinion that at the youth level, contact football is about as safe as any other sport. With our newest CoachDeck coming out soon, for tackle football, we thought we’d share our observations for those who may be fretting over the decision to let a child play.

Remember, American kids are growing up in a country obsessed with football. They’ll be watching it on television their whole lives, often with friends and family. Having played, if even for a season, will give them much more insight on the game and its inner-workings and nuances. Plus, its just a lot of fun. If you’re concerned that the risk might outweigh the potential reward you may be basing your opinion on the high school, college or professional caliber of play you’ve grown accustomed to seeing. The speed and danger of play at the youth level is entirely different.

Should youth baseball pitchers throw curveballs?

A new study released by Little League International claims that throwing curveballs is no more dangerous than any other pitch and that it is overuse, not breaking balls that cause injuries to young pitchers. I am not an expert, and apparently no one knows the answer for sure. My oldest son was taught a curve by my co-coach and great friend, who pitched in college. My friend assured me that if thrown properly, it could not injure his arm. So my boy had a pretty nasty breaker and got a lot of outs with it his 10 and 11 year-old seasons. The winter before his 12 year-old season we happened to go out to dinner with a friend we hadn’t seen in years, who’d married an orthopedic surgeon. I asked him about this issue and he was convinced throwing curves before growth plates are fully developed is a significant contributor to permanent arm injuries. He said he saw kids in his office requiring career-ending surgery every week. I made the decision then and there that if there was even a minute chance that throwing breaking balls might cause a long-term problem, it wasn’t worth it. I didn’t allow my son to throw it his final season in Little League. He relied on a knuckle ball for his off-speed pitch. Was he as effective on the mound? No. He would have been a more dominant pitcher if he could have snapped off that great curve, especially as a 12 year-old. But, ultimately, he got the job done for us. We won the league championship and TOC and I was able to sleep at night no longer worrying that maybe I was putting winning ahead of my son’s welfare.

Ultimately, you can research and read all you want, but I doubt you’ll find any definitive answers. Remember, the Little League study only claimed there was no evidence that throwing the curve caused injury – it did not claim to prove it to be safe. I opted with the choice of better safe than sorry and am glad I did.

NCAA approves sweeping scholarship reform

If you have a son or daughter who has an eye on college athletics, it might be a good idea to take note of some of the changes adopted by the NCAA regarding college scholarships and admission requirements. Four major points are that conferences may not vote to allow up to $2000.00 in spending money, or stipends, for athletes; schools must meet minimum graduation requirement quotas to be eligible for post-season play; universities may now offer multi-year scholarships instead of the current format where they must renew each new year, and admission requirements for high school seniors and junior college transfers have become more stringent.

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When the athlete is injured

This is the first part in a series by Dr. Alan Goldberg examining the mind of the athlete who experiences injury and a lengthy recovery process.

You’ve been involved in your sport longer than you can remember. As you’ve grown, so have your strength, endurance and technique. You’ve busted your butt to become as good in your sport as possible and a force to be reckoned with in competitions. Known for your work ethic, consistency and ability to come through in the clutch, you’ve been the one your team has always been able to depend on in crunch time. You live to practice and perform. You have a passion to compete. You flat out love your sport. It’s who you are! It’s how you define yourself. You have dreams to compete at school, maybe get a college scholarship…who knows… maybe even to go beyond to the next level!

Then the unthinkable happens! It seems to have slowly snuck up on you. It’s not like there was any major injury or anything. You didn’t really feel anything pull, pop or break. Perhaps it might have been a lot easier and more straightforward to deal with if you had experienced that. No, this was quite a bit more insidious. After a big competition you noticed some pain and tenderness in your shoulder. “No problem,” you thought to yourself. You’ve dealt with this stuff before. You quickly dismiss it as nothing. The next day in practice you notice that your shoulder still feels tight and sore. “No big deal!” You try to ignore it and push through the pain. When practice ends your shoulder is throbbing and you start realizing that perhaps you were a bit foolish to have forced yourself to work through the pain. That night, when you can’t even lift your arm to brush your teeth, you start to get worried for the first time.

You keep telling yourself there’s nothing really wrong, but the pain just won’t quit. As much as you hate it, the next day you have to go to the coach and tell him you’re a little hurt. He tells you to take a few days off. You’re forced to rest and you absolutely hate it. However, even after you take two days off, the first few movements that you go through in the next practice still kill. In fact, that shoulder feels just as tight and sore as before. But how bad can it really be? Maybe you just need to take a little more time off. However, when the throbbing in your shoulder keeps you up several nights in a row and then out of two more competitions you finally get the message! Something’s very wrong here and it’s time to drag your butt to the doctor!

Seeing a sports medicine specialist confirms your worst fears. Your shoulder is really bad and he says that you have to be out of action for at least two to three months! He claims that you have some form of tendonitis or maybe some potential rotator cuff problems, but that’s all Greek to you. He doesn’t really know how long this is going to take, but what he says next, really gets your attention. Unless you take care of that shoulder and give it enough rest, you may risk doing some permanent damage. What does that mean you ask? He tells you that if you continue to play through the pain, that you may be jeopardizing your athletic career! Is he crazy!! Is he really telling me that I may never play again!! How could that possibly be! Is this guy a quack or what? How could I even survive without my daily dose of this sport?

If you’re a serious athlete and have ever had an experience with an injury, then you KNOW that the physical hurt you feel is only one VERY small part of the overall pain that you have to go through in the rehab process. The psychological pain caused by your injury and the temporary or permanent loss of your sport can be far more devastating than the strained or torn ligaments, pulled muscles, ripped cartilage or broken bones. Unless this psychological pain is directly addressed and “treated”, your overall recovery will be slow and incomplete. Coaches and parents who are sensitive to the issues of the injured athlete help speed up the rehab process and significantly lessen the mental anguish that the athlete must struggle with. Coaches and parents who are insensitive to these very critical issues, cause further trauma to the athlete and may compromise the healing process.

To better understand what happens psychologically when an athlete is kept out of action because of an injury, it’s important to briefly examine the three major functions that sport plays in the athlete’s life. Next: The Three Major Functions Sport Plays in the Athlete’s Life

Dr. Alan Goldberg is a nationally-known expert in the field of applied sport psychology, Dr. Goldberg works with athletes and teams across all sports at every level, from professional and Olympic caliber right down to junior competitors. He is the author of 25 mental toughness training programs and Director of Competitive Advantage. His website is www.competitivedge.com.

Pitch to win!

By Dan Gazaway

So you want to be a winning pitcher? Well, pitching is literally a mental game of chess. Warren Spahn once said that “hitting is all about timing and pitching is all about upsetting timing.” If you want to win more games and strike more hitters out it is time to get smarter. Most pitchers think that if they learn to throw harder, that is the solution. Don’t get me wrong, it’s nice to throw hard; in fact your off speed pitches will move more when you do, but, what about those pitchers that just don’t have the genetics to throw hard? There are plenty of great pitchers (even in the Major Leagues) that can’t throw harder than 90. In fact the average pitcher in the Majors throws 92 right now.

So what is the secret to winning more games as a pitcher? Warren Spahn said it right when he said that pitching is upsetting timing. When you can keep the hitters off balance and keep the ball down, then you are forcing a ton of ground balls and pop ups. The occasional strikeouts are just bonuses and will happen when you continue to keep the hitters guessing.

This year, Justin Verlander pitched a no hit game for the Tigers. Did you know he threw a no hit game with only 4 strikeouts? If you were to go to mlb.com and look at the highlights of his no hitter, you would see that he was able to force a ton of grounders and pop ups. Why was he so successful? Because he kept the hitters guessing and kept them off balance (upsetting their timing)

There are three key ingredients to improving your chances of winning, they are location, change of speed and movement. Now that is a winning combination. How do you do that? First of all master the control of you fastball using proper pitching mechanics hitting the corners. Second, learn how to control a good changeup (I prefer the Circle or C-changes because they move). You will be surprised how far you can make it in Baseball with just those two pitches if you master control with them. Adding a great curveball or slider to a change and fastball will greatly increase your chances of winning. when you can throw three pitches at any time for strikes in any situation you will dominate because those hitters literally won’t know what’s coming.

Dan Gazaway is Owner and Founder of The Pitching Academy. He has instructed over 2,000 pitchers in the last seven years and received a Bachelor’s Degree as a Health Education Specialist at Utah State University. He is a motivational speaker for topics ranging from attitude, goal-setting and leadership and be contacted at contact@thepitchingacademy.net.

Know thine enemy

By Dan Gazaway

During any given game I tell athletes they can pick up patterns and tendencies of opposing pitchers/hitters. The key is to be able to pick up on these tells and use them to your advantage. I’ll use a poker analogy here. If you were playing poker and your opponent flipped his cards around each hand so they were facing you, you would be able to alter your strategy based upon what you saw in his cards. It works the same in baseball. I can sit in the stands and watch youth pitchers and hitters and pick out different mechanical flaws that would give me an advantage if I were playing.

Once you understand mechanics, you’ll open up a whole new world as you’ll be able to spot issues with opposing athletes that will help with your knowledge of your opponent and ultimately your confidence.

For example, many youth pitchers open their front side up much too early and pull with their glove arm. This premature opening of the front side will not allow him to throw a curveball with any type of consistency. Knowing this, I’d teach my athletes to simply avoid swinging at a curveball until there were two strikes. His chances of dropping a few curveballs in for strikes are minimal. It takes all the guessing out of the mix if you’re only hitting one pitch.

As a pitcher, the easiest mechanical flaw to spot that makes the biggest difference is when hitters have a long swing and sweep their hands through the hitting zone in a giant circle shape. This issue is an open invitation for you to throw the baseball inside. This type of hitter hates the baseball inside and loves to get his arms extended. Until he backs off the plate, just throw him inside hard and once in a while float a couple slow balls over the outside part of the plate to keep him guessing.

Of course these ideas require a couple skills. You must be able to control your own body in order exploit the mechanical inefficiencies of your opponent. Secondly, you need a great awareness of mechanics. Knowing the weaknesses and tendencies of your opponent is a great place to begin in order to build confidence.

Dan Gazaway is Owner and Founder of The Pitching Academy. He has instructed over 2,000 pitchers in the last seven years and received a Bachelor’s Degree as a Health Education Specialist at Utah State University. He is a motivational speaker for topics ranging from attitude, goal-setting and leadership and be contacted at contact@thepitchingacademy.net.

Is arguing with officials OK at any age?

All four of my children have either umpired baseball or refereed soccer, or both. They, for the most part, find it to be a great way to earn money working flexible hours on weekends. However after watching the games my 14 year-old daughter reffed recently, I began to wonder if some parents and coaches only see the official’s uniform, and not the age of the person wearing it.

Watch any sporting event on television and you’ll be treated to coaches and fans berating referees and umpires. It’s just part of the game. It’s no wonder average moms, dads and coaches feel the compulsion to do the same thing at kids’ games. Yet in most televised sports, the officials are very highly-paid and therefore, it is understood that some abuse comes with the territory. Most sport fans would probably agree that they’d be willing to booed by 80,000 fans or screamed at by a rabid coach in exchange for tens of thousands of dollars. This doesn’t make the behavior acceptable or civil. But when you combine the huge amounts of money at stake for players and coaches, fast-paced games and close calls that could easily be ruled both ways, tempers are bound to flare. And everyone involved knows this going in. They’re all adults.

And that’s the point: When big money is not involved and it’s just kids playing the game, is it still OK to castigate game officials? And is it open season on everyone, or is there an age level where we should back off and keep quiet? If the officials are kids themselves, doesn’t that make a difference?

My daughter was the side ref for three competitive games this weekend and I came by at halftime of the first one to bring her a sandwich. She said one of the coaches had really been “on” the center ref who appeared to be younger even than my daughter. She told me the coach had said, “This is a nightmare! We’ve got a ref who is twelve.” Oh and by the way, this wasn’t a game being played by high school athletes vying for college scholarships: These were seven year-old boys. And judging by the level of play, I’d say the coach might do better yelling at himself for poorly training his players, rather than a ref who didn’t call fouls when he “should” have.

The following day I arrived to pick up my daughter from her final reffing assignment with a few minutes to go in the game. Ironically, (or maybe not) one of the teams was from the same club as the previous day’s rude coach, this time with boys maybe a year or two older. Today, it was my daughter who got yelled at. The coach couldn’t believe she hadn’t called a foul on what appeared to me to be a clean tackle, and then when the center ref, (who looked to be in his fifties), did whistle a foul that resulted in a free kick and subsequent goal for the other team, the coach gestured angrily at my daughter and complained about both calls. I’m sure she wasn’t happy with being yelled at, but she didn’t let it show. I walked over to that side of the field wanting to see if the coach kept it up. The game ended and, while he didn’t say anything else critical to the refs, I listened in as he huddled his players. My suspicions were confirmed. He essentially told them it was the refs’ faults that they lost.

I’m don’t want to preach, because I’ll admit I’ve done my share of arguing with baseball umpires, especially in my early days of coaching – albeit only with grown men. As I drove home with my daughter I began thinking, is there a minimum age where complaining to officials should not be tolerated? Or, as I witnessed this weekend, if you put yourself out there as an official must you be prepared to take criticism, regardless of how old you are? And I’m sure many people would say that arguing with officials is more acceptable in competitive sports where “elite” teams are squaring off than when it’s simply recreational. But, especially if the players haven’t even hit puberty yet, should it matter if the teams are travel or rec?

My opinion is that child or adult, competitive or recreational, there should be far less complaining about calls than there is. And yes, if the officials are kids, leave them alone. I have coached games when a teenager umpired and I wouldn’t have dreamed of making him uncomfortable or nervous about the way he called the game. There are certain behaviors that are acceptable among adults, which are not acceptable between adults and children. And this is one of them. Yes, we all get caught up in the moment but what I wanted to ask the coaches I saw over the weekend was, is this game, which you probably won’t remember two months from now, so important that you’ll sacrifice your dignity and yell at a little kid? Arguing with an adult who is officiating a game is lacking in class – I’ll admit, I’ve done it. But taking out your frustration on a young boy or girl doing their best and simply trying to earn some money goes beyond classless – it’s just downright mean.

They’re all bunched up!

By Ihor Chyzowych

That’s what I hear at every U-8 youth course I teach. My reply is always the same: “That’s OK!” Then I get the puzzled looks from nearly every coach or coach-to-be. The kids know what they’re doing, it’s the parents and the new coaches who are confused.

Adults see the bunch of players as unorganized — not as a team. That’s the first problem. Because, at this point, it’s really not a team.

The players at this age don’t understand what being a “team” means. At their age, they are selfish in their game. Me, my ball, my game. Most kids can’t even remember the name of their team or their coach. They won’t even practice with any one else’s ball! How can you expect them to understand or embrace teamwork or fixed positions?

The ball is their magnet, so let them try to get it. In doing so, they’re actually building good instincts that they’ll use in the game when they are older and “team” actually begins to mean something.

For example, many good coaches struggle to “re-teach” 14 to 17 year olds the working concept of zonal defending and zonal pressure defense. Two concepts that they knew instinctively when they were 5. What happened? It was drilled out of them by a youth coach who kept telling them to spread out.

When they’re 5-plus years old, they already have a natural instinct for this kind of defending. They’re already figured out that five of us versus one of them means that we’ll probably get the ball.

To parents, this is a mess on the field. They want the kids to spread out — so that the one player with any skill can have the space to dribble around every one else like cones. Not a very good defense.

A good coach will definitely have to adjust these players’ instincts as they get older, but surprisingly not much. The game itself makes them smarter as they continue to play more and more.

Another reason why “bunching up” is OK for young players: the kid in the center of that bunch is learning early on how to play in tight spaces and not to be afraid of traffic or contact — invaluable skills that will be second-nature to him by the time he’s older and able to play in fixed positions.

So, as hard as it is for parents to believe, young players learn how to solve problems and be creative while bunched up. These skills actually help them with their game when they’re older and that game is more structured.

As a coach, I’ll want on my older team the youth player who consistently came out of the pack with the ball. He might be my striker because he’s not afraid of crowds in the box, or of being marked by two players. He’s been getting through the traffic and scoring in those situations since he was 5. Playing in “the bunch” has made him tough, technical and smart.

My advice to new youth coaches and to parents is to stop worrying about the kids being bunched up. At U-8, just let them play.

You’re role at this point is to teach them some basic ball touches, point them in the right direction and let them go!

Let the game teach them for now. Let them teach themselves. And most of all, let them enjoy the game. Seems simple? It is. But that’s OK, too. That’s the beauty of soccer.

Ihor Chyzowych is Director of Custom Soccer Coaching. He holds a USSF ‘A’ License, National Youth Instructor’s License and NSCAA Advanced National Diploma. He is an ODP Region II Staff Coach and OSYSA State Staff Coach and Licensed Clinician. He can be reached at customsoccer@fuse.net

Pro Banners supports our OnDeck Newsletter

Another new advertising partner, Pro Banners, has come on board for our October issue of OnDeck. Pro Banners is especially focused this time of year in helping sports leagues across the country promote their upcoming registrations in an affordable manner.