Call of Duty

Another of the ten “Underdogs” videos in the great Sports Illustrated series on high school football. This one about the players at Fort Campbell High School whose battle through adversity beyond the ordinary.


Imagination more important than knowledge – Part 3

The nature of experiential learning: assimilation and accommodation.
The Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget (1896-1980) is considered the father of children’s cognitive-development theory and amongst his significant observations on how children learn are two critical ideas: the concepts of assimilation and accommodation.

Assimilation suggests that we first try to place new experiences within our existing understanding of the world, while accommodation suggests that when a new experience cannot be explained by what we already know, we either ignore the experience, perhaps forever, or create new understanding. In these ways, assimilating new information allows us to deepen our existing understanding, while accommodating new information allows us to broaden our knowledge base. Learning over the course of a lifetime becomes a never-ending, spiraling process in which we continue to accumulate knowledge on a wide range of subjects, while adding layers to the information we already possess.

We can only assimilate new information within knowledge that already exists, such as when a player who habitually curves the ball with the laces learns to drive the ball in a straight line. Conversely, introducing a crossing and heading practice to eight-year old players who are just beginning to feel comfortable with the ball will not result in learning because they have no prior need to cross and head (failure to assimilate) and they are not intellectually ready to attending to this aspect of the game (failure to accommodate). Because the information is beyond their capacity and motivation to learn, no new learning takes place.

The nature of experiential learning: contextual interference theory
Shea & Morgan first published their research on the phenomenon of contextual interference in 1979. This theory suggests that leaning is more personal and permanent when it is untidy and unpredictable. Contrary to expectations, when we are faced with the performance of a repetitive learning activity, such as passing back and forth, our brain adapts to t he mental effort required to succeed and then tunes out. It would appear that after a few repetitions the novelty wears off and the motivation to attend to detail is lost.

While we do, initially, demonstrate improved technical proficiency in learning from repetition, the ability to reproduce the technique at a later time, particularly as skill (the application of technique) in novel situations is not retained. In contrast, when practice involves, for example, receiving balls arriving indiscriminately at different heights, speeds and spins, and particularly when there are a number of additional variables, such as opponents to factor into the technical and tactical solution, our brains are required to pay close attention in order to adjustment our responses. Because the responses are similar (receiving a ball), yet different (trajectory of the ball, surf ace required, position of attackers and defenders), the next action interferes with the encoding of the last action, forcing our brain to constantly create connections between each event.

The weave of mental links between t he range of possible technical responses and the associated tactical contexts make learning more permanent and the ability to successfully improvise made more likely. Contextual learning is not clean and predictable because there are many different ways in which knowledge is being constructed, and sensory information may fi nd relevance to performance immediately, tomorrow, years later or never.

Creativity and youth
There is a famous anecdote in education about the young child who is told to draw a tree. The child draws what looks like a trunk and adds branches and leaves a nd then colors the trunk purple and the canopy blue with yellow spots. It is a very bright tree.

When the teacher sees the tree, she tells the child that it is not a very good tree because trees have dark trunks and green canopies, except in the fall when they may be red or orange. The child is upset that the teacher didn’t like her version of a tree and obliging ly draws another tree in the way the teacher had suggested. The original drawing was crumpled up and thrown into the garbage can and the child never drew a brightly colored tree again.

Youth is the time to play and experiment. Youth is the time to imagine and dream. Youth is the time to make mistakes. Youth is the time to succeed and be told everything is good. Youth is the time to lay the
foundation. Youth is not the time to build the roof. Create an environment; talent will come.

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

To be a successful player you MUST…


  • Know where Hitters have hit the ball previously
  • Anticipate Where the Ball Will Be Hit
  • Make ALL of the routine plays
  • Understand that If a Ball Gets By You Bad Things Happen
  • Communicate with your Fellow Outfielders on Every Play
  • Keep Proper Distance Between Yourself and the Other Outfielders
  • Know How Many Outs There are at All Times
  • Know the Count
  • Know the Hitters Tendencies
  • Work Together
  • Hit the Cut Off Man
  • Know When to Take Risks with Dives
  • Know the Situations in the Games when You Need to Play “No Doubles”
  • Get Your Feet in Position Before you Field Fly Balls and Ground Balls
  • Work Through EVERY Ball and Throw The Ball Hard THROUGH the Cut Off Man or Intended Base
  • Know what Base to Throw to if the Ball is hit to your Left, Right, Straight, In, and Back BEFORE EACH PITCH
  • Back Up Every Play Toward You From the Infield
  • Work Daily On Your Drills
  • Know Where the Sun is at All Times
  • Know What the Wind is doing at All Times
  • Know the Speed of the Runners
  • Know the Range of the Fielders In Front of You
  • Understand the Urgency of Each Play


  • Use Your Voice to Call For the Ball
  • Yell “GET OVER” on Every Ball Hit to the Right Side of the Infield
  • Know where Hitters have hit the ball previously
  • Make ALL of the routine plays
  • Be in a LOW Ready Position for EVERY PITCH
  • Keep Your Hands in FRONT of you at All Times
  • Field The Ball In Front of You, Not Underneath You
  • Know the Coverage’s (Bunts, 1st and 3rd,
  • Know the Situations and Understand when To play In, Even, Regular, Back, Right, or Left
  • Understand the Timing of the Play
  • Understand the Speed of the Runner
  • Anticipate where the Ball May be Hit because of the Hitter, Situation, and Pitch
  • Know How Many Outs There are at All Times
  • Know the Count
  • Know the Hitters Tendencies
  • Work Together with your Fellow Infielder’s
  • Work Through EVERY Ball and Throw The Ball Hard THROUGH Intended Base
  • Work Daily On Your Drills
  • Know Where the Sun is at All Times
  • Know What the Wind is doing at All Times
  • Know the Speed of the Runners
  • Know the Range of the Fielders Behind You
  • Understand the Urgency of Each Play
  • Understand Where the Middle Infielders Want Your Feed to Be.
  • Give the Second Baseman and Shortstop Quick and Accurate Feeds On Potential Double Plays
  • Know the Situations in the Games when You Need to Play “No Doubles”
  • Do Your Best To NEVER Let a Ball Thrown From the Outfield Get Past You at 3rd Base (3rd basemen)
  • Anticipate & Be Prepared for Throw To Third on a Ground Ball to Shortstop in 5 Hole with Runner on 2nd
  • Work On Footwork around Bag (Middle Infielders and 1st Basemen)
  • Stay Low and Anticipate a Bad Feed on Every Rep (Middle Infielders and 1st Basemen)
  • React to Get Bunts and Slow Rollers
  • Understand When You Really Need to Get in Front of the Ball and Knock it Down


  • Understand and Execute a Plan against Hitters
  • Plan TWO to THREE Pitches Ahead During an At Bat
  • Use Certain Pitches to Set Up Other Pitchers During the Current At Bat and Future At Bats
  • Use Your Body Language and Voice To Lead the Team
  • Catch Every Ball
  • Use Your Legs to Put Your Body In position to Receive Pitches and Make them Look like Strikes
  • Put Your Body in Position to Block Balls Within 2 Widths of your Body
  • Anticipate a Bad Pitch Every Pitch
  • Do the Following Items If There is going to be a potential play at home plateo Clearing away bato Check Runners

    o Getting Cut Off Man in Position

    o Getting into position to receive the ball

  • You can help an infielder determine if the ball is in play or out of play
  • Determine if there is going to be a potential play with an advancing runner
  • See Any runners that are in motion (Potential double play)
  • See and alert any bases not covered by fielders
  • Make sure the pitcher is backing up the proper base


  • Number of Outs
  • Bunt Coverage’s
  • 1st and 3rd Coverage’s
  • Where to throw on Bunts
  • Where to throw on Cut Offs/Relays
  • Where to back up (Pitchers)
  • If there is room in Foul Territory on Pop Ups
  • Positioning for Certain Hitters
  • Throwing to First Base on a Ground Ball with a 3-2 2 Out Count
  • Telling the Pitcher to “Get Over” or cover first base on a ground ball to the right side when a
  • Left- handed hitter comes to the plate.
  • To go to an uncovered base if needed (One base further than the runner)
  • Work the Umpire
  • Speed Up or Slow Down the Tempo of the Game
  • Protect the Pitcher

  • Check the Wind
  • Check the area from Home Plate to the Backstop
  • Check the Sun/Lights
  • Check the Area between the dugouts for holes, weird angles, anything that you would need to know how the ball is going react behind you.
  • Roll Balls Down the Lines to See how the Ball Rolls (Fair or Foul)
  • Throw Balls Against Backstop to see how balls bounce
  • Look to Dugouts to see where openings are (to know where to run to for backing up throws)
  • Look at area in front of home plate – is it hard or soft
  • Check to See if Home Plate is Soft or Hard
  • Check to see if Home Plate is SlipperyOPPOSITION
  • Get Lineup and stats if possible
  • Know who runs
  • Who is the best hitter
  • Who is the worst hitter
  • Where in the box do the hitters stand?
  • Front or Back?o Front usually looking Breaking Balls or Off Speedo Back – Usually looking Hard
  • Where are the hitters feet?o On top of plate (Weakness Away)o Away from plate (Weakness In)
  • How does the hitter stand?o Straight Up (Low ball hitter)o Crouched Down (High ball hitter)
  • Who is hot?
  • Who is not?
  • Who is the best contact hitter?
  • Who has the biggest strikeout potential?
  • Who hits in the clutch?
  • Who takes certain pitches?
  • Who swings at the first pitch?
  • Who will take a walk?
  • Who will take a hit by pitch late in the game?PITCHERS ON OWN STAFF (Both Starter and Relievers)
  • Go over opposition line up hitter by hitter.
  • Know all signs with no men on base and with men on base. (Before they go into the game)
  • Come up with a game plan each day – Some hitters will get hot or cold during a series
  • Understand each pitchers strengths and weaknesses.
  • Know what each pitcher likes to do in certain situations (ex. First pitch after a home run, with two strikes and no one on base etc.)
  • Know how much time the starting pitcher needs to get ready and at what time he wants to start getting ready.
  • What is the pitcher’s command pitch?
  • What is the pitcher’s go to pitch?
  • What is the pitcher’s ranking of his pitches?
  • What is the pitcher’s out pitch?
  • Can the pitcher pitch inside?
  • Where is his command side of the plate?
  • What pitch does the pitcher go to when ahead in the count?
  • What pitch does the pitcher go to when behind in the count?
  • What pitch does the pitcher go to when even in the count?
  • Can the pitcher hold runners on with a pick-off move?
  • What is his time to Home Plate?
  • Understand how does the pitcher handle pressure?
  • Understand how does each hitter match up to the pitcher?
  • Understand where does the pitcher tend to miss with each pitch?
  • Can the pitcher field his position?
  • Can you use complex signs with particular pitchers?
  • Can the pitcher see the signs?UMPIRE
  • Know all the umpires’ names
  • If you have worked with an umpire before, know the strike zone that he/she features.


  • Know when to get loose and how much you need to get loose to be ready to play
  • Know how much to throw before getting the pitcher in the bullpen
  • Know how much you need to catch in the bullpen before being ready for the game
  • When to do drills or extra hitting
  • Know workload limitations for hitting, throwing, drills etc.
  • Make sure that you manage the available time to get all of the above events completed

Ryan Sienko is founder and CEO of Catch and Throw, a catching instruction, information, and conditioning company. He played professionally for eight seasons with the Texas Rangers, Chicago White Sox and in independent baseball where he was an All-Star. In early 2010 the Joliet Jackhammers inducted him as the inaugural player to their Hall of Fame. He is also an associate scout for the Baltimore Orioles. Ryan can be reached at

Too much too soon: the new and dangerous culture of youth sports

By Claire McCarthy (originally published April 5, 2011)

My friend Nancy went for physical therapy for her back pain the other day, and was really surprised by what she saw there: the place was full of kids.

“Yeah, it’s like this now,” said the therapist when Nancy asked about it. “It’s the sports.”

It’s not that kids are getting clumsier or having more accidents. The injuries that are sending kids to physical therapy are overuse injuries. Kids these days are specializing in a sport as early as elementary school, and spending many more hours a week in practice than we ever did as kids—and we’re seeing the consequences.

In a newly-released study authored by Children’s Hospital Boston’s Mininder Kocher, MD, and Alison Field, ScD, researchers found that girls engaging in eight or more hours of high-impact activities (especially running, basketball, cheerleading and gymnastics) per week were twice as likely to have a stress fracture as those engaged in such activities for four hours or fewer. These stress fractures, if not detected and treated early, can lead to worse fractures, deformities and growth problems. Some may need surgery.

“We are seeing stress fractures more frequently in our pediatric and adolescent athletes,” says Kocher. “This likely reflects increased intensity and volume of youth sports. It is not uncommon to see young athletes participating in more than 20 hours of sports per week.”

My older son, Zack, stopped doing any other sport except swimming when he was 9 years old. A big part of the reason—really, the biggest part—was that he loved swimming. But there was also the reality that in order to be successful at it—make even the lowest level of championships, be in the top half at USA Swimming meets—he had to spend a lot of hours in the pool. That’s what all the other successful swimmers were doing, and Zack wanted to be successful. It didn’t leave time for other sports.

We were lucky; he didn’t have any injuries. He broke his wrist once, but that was in gym; as a swimmer, he didn’t know that you were supposed to overrun first base, not slide into it. But he did burn out. He hit a plateau in high school, and got really frustrated and discouraged. Swimming became a source of anxiety and exhaustion for him, not fun. He didn’t want to quit the team, but when he graduated from high school he left the sport behind.

“It’s understandable and commendable to want the best for our children, but somehow we’ve gotten it into our heads that in order to have the best they have to be the best—in school, in sports, in everything.”

Swimming fewer hours a week, and not swimming year-round, would have meant many fewer ribbons and medals for Zack. It would have meant being a recreational swimmer, not a competitive one. My husband and I would have been fine with that, but the coaches would have given him a hard time. He would have had a lesser status on the team, and that would have been hard for him. He wouldn’t have been chosen as captain, and he loved being captain.

See, that’s the thing. To decrease the number of overuse injuries, we will need to change the culture of youth sports. We can encourage parents to limit the number of hours their children practice and compete, and make sure they know that specializing early is dangerous. We can educate coaches. But unless we can get our culture to take a collective deep breath and let go of the idea that kids need to not just play sports but achieve in them, we will get nowhere.

This emphasis on achievement in sports is just one facet of the achievement culture problem in our country. It’s understandable and commendable to want the best for our children, but somehow we’ve gotten it into our heads that in order to have the best they have to be the best—in school, in sports, in everything. And it’s just not true. In fact, pushing to be the best can be bad for kids, physically and emotionally.

I think we need to start early with our kids and ourselves. We need to set different expectations and different goals. Don’t talk Harvard—talk college. Don’t talk A’s—talk trying their best. When it comes to sports, don’t talk winning—talk playing. I have a 5-year-old, so I have another chance at all this; I will do it with you. We’ll buck the trend together. We’ll be rebels, fighting for a cause.

And one by one, bit by bit, we will take back childhood for our children.

Dr. Claire McCarthy is a primary care physician and the Medical Communications Editor at Boston Children’s Hospital. Along with her blogs here on Thriving, you can find her at the Huffington Post and Follow her on Twitter @drClaire.

Victimization following a complaint

Another terrific, helpful video from the NSPCC. How does your sports team or club handle complaints? This advice should help anyone involved in sports activities with children and young people including coaches, volunteers, management committees, participants and parents.

Sportscenter “My Wish” DeSean Jackson

When young Donovan Troy was diagnosed with sickle-cell anemia, his parents were told he’d never be able to play sports. However, as you’ll see in this ESPN Sportscenter “My Wish” episode, Donovan has some pretty awesome hands, and an even better smile.

Ugly Parent Syndrome…David Beckham?

Not many would use the word “ugly” to describe David Beckham, but here he details a day when he got a red card…at a seven year-old children’s soccer match. His admission leads to a very interesting discussion on what is and is not appropriate from parents watching their children’s sports, as well as the potential ramifications of mandating parental behavior.