Where there’s a will, there’s a way

Nothing else needs be said except maybe, “Best of luck,” to Griffin Uhl, the Louisville walk-on offensive lineman who never played high school football. Great story about someone determined to achieve his goal despite a unique and seemingly insurmountable obstacle.

Is it really this bad?

Can youth sports really be as bad as this parent’s experience? Catherine Durkin Robinson’s article in the Washington Times paints a pretty bleak picture of our youth sports culture and the insanity of the parents who inhabit it.

Honda giving away a trip to the Little League World Series

Honda, partnering with Little League international, is giving you a chance to win a trip to this year’s Little League World Series in Williamsport, PA. Register here for your chance to win.

July OnDeck Newsletters are out!

July’s issues of our popular OnDeck Newsletters have been sent. If you missed them, you can read the soccer newsletter, with a great article on the subject of over-coaching. And the baseball edition, contains a contribution from New York Mets Hitting Coach Dave Hudgens. As always, if you’d like read previous issues or sign up to receive these in your inbox each month, you may do so here.

The Coach is Treating My Child Unfairly!

Is there anything that gets us more nuts than our kids’ sports? As a coach and a parent, I’ve been on both sides of the fence. I’m sure many parents on teams I’ve coached believed their kids should have been getting more playing time or opportunities at different positions. And I’ve watched my own children being coached by others and felt they were being treated unfairly. The following comments were found on a blog about unfair coaches. You be the judge as to whether these parents are over-the-top, or have legitimate gripes.

My son is in baseball 10 year-old division. He is a pretty good player and was pretty much recruited by this team however now he is being played mostly in the outfield while the 3 coaches kids are always in the key positions. I would like to know how to deal with coaches that are all out for their own kids and who give other kids very little playing time in key positions. We have also experienced this situation with football. My son was in tears today because he played the whole game in the outfield and never gets to pitch and this is why they asked him to play on this team based on his pitching skills. We have tried making comments and subtle hints but it all goes ignored. Also, one of the coaches is VP of the league. I would love to hear from other parents who have experienced this and how they have handled the situation. Thanks!

Baseball is such a subjective game. Is it possible the 10 year-old isn’t as good as the coaches’ sons? I’m sure the parent who wrote this doesn’t think so. But who knows unless an impartial observer evaluates all of the kids on the team. And even then, two different impartial observers may come to two different conclusions about who should play and where. One thing I offer as evidence in cases such as these however is that it is likely the coaches do want to win. And wouldn’t the child in question be pitching if he were really a “difference-maker” who would help?

My daughter is 11 years old and has been playing on competitive basketball travel teams for 3 years. Her coach for the past two years has been getting more and more unfair. Once the frustrating travel season was over she wanted to try out for an AAU club team. She makes the team and we find out at the first practice that her travel coach is coaching the team. I should have opted for her not to play. But she loves the game. There is not a moment she doesn’t have a basketball in her hand. Now I give all coaches the benefit of the doubt, but in this case I am done!! She has been in a starting position all season, but the minute she makes ONE mistake he pulls her immediately and puts in someone who makes continuous mistakes. He puts her back in and does the same thing again. Meanwhile all other starters make mistakes, including his daughter and he leaves them in! I have had other parents come up to me and ask why he is picking on my daughter.

The “I have other parents coming to me and asking why my child is getting treated unfairly” card is common. (Folks seem to offer this as incontrovertible evidence that an injustice is occurring.  Because if a parent whose own kid is competing with mine for playing time feels my child is getting cheated, it must be real, right?). In this case, I would only say two things: Could it be you are looking harder for mistakes in others than in your daughter? Is there a chance that I might watch the same game as you and see far more mistakes made by your child than you do? And again, I’m guessing this coach wants to win. If your daughter could make a significant difference in this regard, wouldn’t he play her more?

Our high school soccer coach is ridiculous. He loads up the team with 20 to 24 players, has 3 assistants, and then ignores most of his bench. I could understand if the starting rotation was really strong, but there are many players who are no better than anyone on the bench. I find it unbearable to sit thru games when my child is just sitting on the bench. This child is a good athlete who plays on a top club team.. I just don’t understand why these coaches can’t be honest with the players. They expect respect from the players; why can’t they show respect to the players?

As you know, teams carry more players than they can play at one time. Yes, in a perfect world, all kids get an equal opportunity to play in the game. However, the higher our kids go in sports, the less the emphasis is on fairly distributing playing time and the more it is on winning. You say that there are many players who are no better than anyone on the bench. What is the basis for that comment? Are you at every practice to evaluate this? Are you a professional soccer coach? I understand it is “unbearable to watch” your child sitting on the bench, but that doesn’t mean she deserves to play. The coach did keep her on the team. Would you have preferred she was one of the players who was cut?

I have been crazy with stress, anxiety and anger over the coaching situation at our high school. My son is a junior on the Varsity baseball team. We are 5 games into the season and he has not seen the field. He is a far superior player than the SENIOR that is playing in front of him. Several parents and other coaches have asked why our son is not on the field – all while the player playing has error after error. I want to go “have it out” with the coach – but fear retaliation by the coach toward my son. He is an excellent player with a 4.0 GPA – not to mention a great kid!

I’ll bet they’re all great kids. We all think our kids are the greatest. Baseball, soccer and other team sports are extremely subjective. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. My children all played or play baseball, soccer and football and often they were starters and the stars of their teams. But there have been times they’ve been part-time players or even been cut. Guess what? When they were the stars of the team, I thought the coach knew exactly what he was doing. When they weren’t, I believed the coach had political motives and/or was an idiot. I may have been right in both cases, but I also may have been wrong. I joke that if I was doing it all again, my kids would run track or swim – something where results are not an opinion but a fact. If my child came home complaining that she wasn’t in the meet tomorrow I’d ask her, “Was the other girl faster than you? OK then, if you can go faster than her, you’ll be in the next meet.” No way for politics or nepotism to enter the discussion. Just a stopwatch.

The bottom line is that sure, there are politics, there is “daddy-ball” there is unfairness and even coaching stupidity. Yet as you can see from the comments here, there is also a lot of emotion that might cloud our objectivity as parents. If you really feel your child is in a bad situation, you can always go somewhere else – even in high school or college. If we’re talking about volunteer coaches, you can  step up and take the helm next season. Sometimes change is what’s needed. But there’s no guarantee that the grass will be any greener on the other side.

Three Tips to Eliminate Distractions on the Field

More and more athletes I work with on the mental game come to me with focus and concentration issues.  Lack of focus or losing focus at critical times can be a constant source of stress anxiety and poor performance. What is a distraction?  In sports most athletes lose focus from time to time, but what separates the good ones from the great ones is their ability to regain focus and composure and get right back to the task at hand.

When an athlete loses their touch; a baseball pitcher who can’t find the strike zone, a golfer who three-putts from 15 feet, or a basketball player who throws up an air ball for no apparent reason, you have to look to the athlete’s mental game. Why would a competitor lose their touch in the final two minutes of a basketball game? Fear of losing? Are they afraid of letting teammates down? Could they be too tense to make the shot because the entire arena is watching?

There is no one or thing to blame for your loss of focus.  The distraction could be external (something outside of you) or internal (thought or image) to drag you away from being focused. Let’s focus on external distractions – the stuff that happens around you – or any distraction that is triggered externally and not all on your own.

Coping with External Distractions
Coping with distraction is a part of sports athletes must learn. Basketball and baseball players have to deal with hecklers all the time when shooting a free throw, or trying to execute at the plate for example. How do you deal with external distractions?

TIP #1
Top athletes use pre-shot routines to help them stay tuned into the right performance cues.
For a basketball player, a free-throw routine shields your mind when the pressure is on to make the shot. As a baseball hitter the pre-at-bat routine helps clear the mind for better focus on what’s relevant. Total absorption in the steps of the routine helps to occupy your mind and thus deflect distractions that may come into your mind, such as crowd noise. Your mission is to focus on your performance cues within the routine, which also serve to keep you focused in the process and not worry about missing the shot.

Performance Cues of a Pre-shot Routine
Pre-shot routines help you stay focused on execution and deflect distractions. Mostly used by sports with self-paced tasks, such as a serve in tennis, putt in golf, or a free-throw in basketball, pre-shot routines spell out what you need to focus on prior to execution of a skill, also called performance cues.

The starting point in a good pre-shot routine for a free throws is to release the last play and don’t waste energy on what just happened. Take a deep breath and feel balanced on the foul line.
Your mind should be clear and ready to focus on the target. Set up to the line as you always do in your foul shot routine. Bounce, twirl or hold the ball in a way that feels good to you (or do what you usually do here). Feel the weight of the ball and center yourself on the line.

TIP #2
Next, create a good mental picture of the ball’s trajectory and visualize it go in, or just “sense” the ball going in the basket. The key here is to create a positive picture or feeling in your mind to boost confidence. See it, hear it, feel it, or think about it going in, and know it is going in. If you get a bad picture or thought here, STOP immediately and restart your routine from the beginning.

I worked with a college basketball player that is now playing in the WNBA who had a very challenging time centering her mind when on the free-throw line.  The crowd shouting during her shots was a major challenge for her focus. She was unable to recognize that her mind was drifting. Focused athletes won’t hear a gun go off if they are into their performance. But if you give the distraction energy or attention, you’re no longer focused on your routine. You want to recognize distractions quickly as they come into your mind.

Only then can you refocus on the task at hand and not let the distraction cause a critical miss.

Tip #3
One more tip: If there’s a potential for external distraction in your sport, prepare yourself mentally for what’s to come. Practice in conditions (or distractions) that match what you will face in competition. I know it’s hard to simulate the pressure of the Olympics, but prepare yourself for distractions present in competition that you wouldn’t usually experience in practice.

Conclusion:
Distractions can be a major challenge with execution success. The most important factor is to know the difference between internal and external distractions and what to do to eliminate them from derailing your success. With the right strategy and pre-execution routine its quite easy, with practice, to eliminate the ones that keep you stuck.  You can take a proactive step on your own to boost your focus and concentration.

For more information about this article contact or for information on mental game coaching contact John R. Ellsworth – Mental Game Coach at Protex Sports, LLC. www.protexsports.com. You can also send your questions to Ask Coach John.

Don’t Get Caught Following Bad Hitting Advice!

Improper hitting instruction can stop a promising athletic career dead in its tracks. This article will expose some of the most damaging BUT widely taught hitting misinformation that is used today.

I have the greatest admiration for parents and volunteer coaches, but it frustrates me to see wrong information being taught that can destroy a player’s chance to have more fun, get more hits – or even get a college scholarship. Let’s look at two of the worst hitting fallacies in detail, and then look at the long term consequences of repeating these mistakes.

Hitting Fallacy #1: “Get Your Back Elbow Up!”
I cringe every time I hear these words. Every little league coach I have ever heard at one time or another has told his hitters to do this. I asked my friend Chris Bando, a former Major League Coach, what the worst advice he ever heard a little league coach say. Chris is a great person to ask since he has had five boys in Little League. The first thing he said to me was, “The absolute worst thing I hear all the time is, ‘Get your back elbow up!'” He’s right. This is the worst advice around, but you hear it everywhere. How many baseball scholarships do you think have been lost just because players blindly followed this one fallacy? This one statement has hurt more young hitters than anything else I’ve ever heard.

The idea here is to get on top of the ball and hit line drives, but just the opposite occurs. During the swing, the back elbow should come close to the rib cage and the barrel of the bat should stay above the hands. With a high back elbow, the elbow has to travel a much greater distance and at a much faster rate of speed. When this happens, the barrel of the bat will drop below the hands, the front elbow will rise, and you will have a long swing. If this goes on for very long, you have created a habit – a very bad habit.

What about Griffey?
I get asked this question all the time -“What about Griffey, his back elbow is up?” Most coaches and kids don’t understand the fact that the elbow can be up in the stance, for that matter the elbow can be anywhere. However, when good Major League hitters with high back elbows in their stance take their stride, their hands go back into a Position of Power. At this point in the approach, their back elbow will relax just before they start their hands.

Unfortunately when unknowledgeable coaches tell young kids to put their elbow up, the kids do not know what this means and generally they do not take their hands back into a good position from which to hit. They also fail to relax the back elbow just before they start their swing. If kids don’t relax their back elbow slightly before they start their swing, the back elbow has so far to go that it puts the top hand in a weak position and creates a long swing. 99% of coaches don’t know how to put a kid’s hands in the correct position nor do they know the correct placement of the back elbow. They just tell kids to get their back elbow up yet they don’t have a full understanding of what the hands and arms should be doing at this point.

Long Term Effects of Practicing With Your Back Elbow Up
A 15 year old who started practicing with his back elbow up at age 10 has been practicing 5 years with the improper hitting principles. Some of the consequences are as follows:

• You’ll develop a long swing……so you will have difficulty adjusting to different types of pitches.
• You won’t be able to get the bat around on an average fastball……having inconsistent at bats.
• You’ll hit too many long fly ball outs…….decreasing your batting average.
• You won’t adjust well to a curveball, making it hard to succeed against good high school pitchers.
• You’ll be inconsistent at making hard contact, making it hard to impress college recruiters or scouts.

Fallacy #2: Your Top Hand Should Roll Over At Contact
This is a very detrimental teaching. Coaches who say this totally misunderstand what part the wrists play in the swing. The common thought is that the top hand rolls over the bottom hand at contact. This is not true. Rolling your top hand over prevents you from taking advantage of the power that explodes through your wrists. Whatever you do, don’t roll your top hand over your bottom hand until well after contact is made. At contact, your top hand should be facing up, and your bottom hand should be facing down.

Long Term Effects of Rolling the Top Hand Over the Bottom Hand
• You will hit with less power….creating less bat speed.
• You will hit more weak ground balls….hitting into more double plays.
• You will not make consistent contact….destroying your chances to impress a college scout.
• You will not be able to drive the ball to the opposite field….making you a limited offensive player.

If you are following either of these fallacies, then your hitting career could be in trouble. There is good news – you can now recognize and correct these bad habits and learn the correct swing mechanics.

Dave Hudgens has been involved with the best of baseball for over 30 years. He is currently the Hitting Coach for the New York Mets. Prior to that he was a longtime hitting coach in the Oakland Athletics’ organization.