Should UCLA have fired Ben Howland?

By all accounts, Ben Howland was a class act – a gentleman. In his ten years at UCLA he led his team to three Final Fours, something 95% of the schools in D1 college basketball would sign up for in a minute. This past season, his squad won the conference title. Yet, still, this week he was fired by the school. L.A. Times’ columnist Bill Plaschke believes the school did the right thing. However another L.A. Times columnist, Bill Dwyre opines that Howland’s firing is just an example of the sad and misguided state of college basketball. Which side do you take?

Let her play!

The L.A. Times’ Chris Erskine loves to write about youth, community sports. This article tells the story of Ella Wood, a 13 year-old girl who played on her school’s flag football team. The team was 8-0, but were made to forfeit every game for letting a girl play.

More baseball myths

This one is among the most common. I once heard a dad who had played baseball at Stanford argue that this myth was true:

Myth: If a pitch hits a player’s hands it’s considered a foul ball, since hands are considered part of the bat.

Reality: The hands are not part of the bat. They are part of the arm.

Don’t believe it? Try this. Hold a bat in your hand at arm’s length. Now open your hand. Did the bat hit the ground? Good, gravity works. Where is your hand? I’ll bet it’s not on the ground. So your hand is not part of the bat.

When a player is hit on the hand by a pitch, the umpire must evaluate the situation just as he would if the pitch had hit him elsewhere:

If the pitch was in the strike zone the ball is dead, runners return to the last legally touched base, and the batter gets a strike. If that was the third strike, the batter is out.
If the batter was in the process of swinging, just as in the previous case, the ball is dead, runners return to the last legally touched base, and the batter gets a strike. If that was the third strike, the batter is out.
If the pitch was not in the strike zone and the batter was not swinging at it, but the batter makes no attempt to get out of the way, the ball is dead, runners return, a ball is charged to the batter and he/she must continue to bat. (Unless that was ball four.)
If none of the above conditions apply, the ball is dead, the batter is awarded first base, and runners advance only if forced.

Remember – when a batter is hit anywhere by a pitch, the ball is immediately dead, whether or not a base award is made.

Read the March OnDeck Newsletters

If you don’t already subscribe to OnDeck, our monthly newsletters, you can read March’s soccer issue and March’s baseball issue now.

OnDeck Newsletter goes out tomorrow

Our March, 2013 issues of OnDeck for Soccer and Baseball go out tomorrow and are filled with tons of great information for youth sports administrators, parents and coaches. If you’d like to subscribe to OnDeck and have it delivered to your inbox each month, you may do so here.

Photos to store in our scrapbooks

As a youth coach, I was lucky that a retired gentleman named Jon decided to pick up photography as a hobby. He had a son playing in our league and loved youth sports. So nearly every game, whether or not his boy was involved, we’d see him beyond the outfield fence with a lens as long as his arm shooting photos. Consequently, hundreds of shots of my childrens’ Little League careers were captured on film and we have those to enjoy now, years later.

But there are so many moments, some funny, some poignant, some exhilarating, that my mind captured along the way too. And while our teams were fortunate enough to do a lot of winning, these instances weren’t necessarily about championships or trophies, but rather, about the kids I had the privilege to  coach through the years.

I remember seeing twelve year-old Colin come up to bat the first game of a new season. He was our lead-off hitter, great player – maybe the best in the league, I’d coached him since he was eight. And now, as we embarked on our final season together, it struck me: This was it. After this year I’d still be coaching, but never him again. And here he was, a player with so much confidence and poise, so different than the little boy I drafted, but still looking down to me to see what I wanted him to do.

There was Andrew, son of my best friend and co-coach, Jeff. Andrew would come to bat in a tense situation – crucial juncture in the game – and  I’d start to give him the signs. He’d smile and raise his eyebrows like John Belushi and I had to turn around to keep from laughing in front of the entire team.

And Jake. He was on my Little League team and my travel team. Earlier in the winter at a travel tournament, in typical Jake fashion, he’d dived for a foul ball near the fence. But as he did so his teeth smashed into a cement strip, causing extensive injuries that would require multiple oral surgeries and years of recovery. I was the first to him on the field that night and realized that this was a player I loved like my own son. Now, just a month later, he was at our first Little League practice of the season – my final as a coach. He had to wear a mask to cover his mouth and he still had pain, but he wasn’t going to miss a moment of the season. I told the team about Jake’s courage and tried to keep it together while I presented him with the ball I’d retrieved from his glove. Of course he’d made the catch.

And, obviously, there are thousands of moments with my own sons and daughter too. Moments that no one got on film or tape, but that will stay with me as long as I live.

There are many goals you will have as a volunteer coach. Run great practices, make your players better, have fun, teach them to work hard, and yes, maybe even win a championship. But as you embark on a new season of coaching, make sure you take the time to load some “film” in your mind’s camera. You want to be ready to capture as many wonderful moments as possible, for your scrapbook of future memories.

Coaches Curriculum for Injury Prevention

Our partners at STOP Sports Injuries have developed a tremendous curriculum toolkit all youth sports coaches should read prior to their first games and practices. Contained within is instruction on preseason conditioning and proper warm-up, overuse injuries, concussions, and heat illness. This can be downloaded and sent to league coaches and/or as the basis for safety clinics. Download the curriculum toolkit here: AOS-103 Coaches Curriculum Toolkit (nm) 2.8[1].

The Rift (Part three of three)

by Tony Earp, Senior Director of Programming SuperKick/TeamZone

Measuring Success
The success of a team or a player is normally measured by wins and losses. This is a very misleading way to measure whether a coach is doing a good job, a team is having success, or if the players are learning and improving their level of play. For example, a team can be having a very good season, but the individual players have not improved much from the beginning of the year. Another team could be struggling to win games, but the players individually have made tremendous strides in their individual skills and ability with the ball.

The success of a team or a player is determined by a lot of different things that need to be outlined by the coach to the parents before the season begins. These areas of measurement should be different for teams and players of various ages and competitive levels. In short, measuring success for a U8 team is very different than a U16 team. Unfortunately, it is common for adults to use the same barometer (wins/losses) for both age groups.

The areas of measuring success for a team and the players need to be addressed by the coach with the parents before the season. The coach must explain what parents should be looking for throughout the season, and the parents ought to have the opportunity to ask questions and be part of the discussion for determining how success will be measured. This will help set the expectations for the team and players for the entire year. This will also affect how a coach approaches training and games in regards to focus of the training sessions, playing time, moving positions, and other coaching decisions. If the coach’s actions correlate positively with how the coach and parents are measuring success of the team and players for the season, there should fewer issues.

Mistakes
Mistakes will be made by coaches and parents over the course of the year. Every coach has games, practices, and conversations with parents or players they wish they could do over again. Parents make decisions for their kids or comments they probably wish they could take back. In the end, no one is perfect, so to go into a season thinking no one will ever make a bad decision is unrealistic. With that in mind, it is important for coaches and parents to recognize when mistakes are made and acknowledge them. Then, an effort needs to be made to correct the mistake.

For example, I was coaching a U12 girl’s game and I completely mismanaged the playing time for a couple of players on the team. I knew it right away and it was made more evident by the body language and expressions on the girls’ faces. I immediately pulled the girls aside and apologized to them. I let them know that I made a mistake today and I will make sure it does not happen again. An e-mail went out to all parents as soon as I got home acknowledging the error. A coach can cause unnecessary issues by not recognizing when a mistake is made and addressing it immediately.

Similarly, parents need to do the same thing. During another game I was coaching, a parent got into a verbal disagreement with the referee. Before the season started, I made it clear that my expectation was the referee would only be addressed by me. When I saw this happening, I knew I was going to have to address it with the parents. As soon as the game ended, the parent immediately found me and apologized for the behavior. Then, the parent went up to the other parents and apologized to them as well.

These are two examples of a situation which could have turned into an issue between the coach and parents, but instead became moments of growth in the relationship. As kids are taught to take accountability for their actions, adults need to practice what they preach and adhere to the same expectation.

To bridge the rift between coaches and parents, clear expectations set before the season and consistent communication throughout the season are required. Coaches need to view parents as allies, not adversaries, in helping the players and the team have a successful season and make them part of the process. Parents need to allow the coach to do their job and understand there are other kids and parents on the team who may not share their views on what is right or wrong.

Whether you are a coach or a parent, your goal should always be to make things better, not to just point out mistakes and criticize others. A difference of opinions is a good thing. It breeds debate and discussion which creates new ideas and better ways of doing things. If you do not like how something is done, do not be an agent of blame; be an agent of change. This will ensure coaches and parents are working together (closing the rift) throughout the season to provide an exceptional soccer environment for each child.

Tony Earp directs SuperKick/TeamZone Columbus’ Soccer Skills programs. Tony has a Masters in Education from The Ohio State University. Tony was a standout player both academically and athletically at The Ohio State University, earning multiple honors both on the field and in the classroom. He can be reached at tearp@superkickcolumbus.com

How does the aluminum bat hurt your swing?

by Dave Hudgens, New York Mets Hitting Coach

Every kid today uses an aluminum bat. Through the years, the aluminum bat has developed into a high tech, light weight lethal weapon, with which kids really have a tremendous amount of success. Recently I read an ad that sang the praises of the “large sweet spot” on the aluminum bat. What the ad doesn’t tell you is that this large sweet spot could keep you from maximizing your success as a hitter. Let’s see how the aluminum bat affects your swing:

The Aluminum Bat Increases the Habit of Creating a “Long Swing”
90% of kids that play baseball at the youth league level have long swings. They can get away with it for a while, but it eventually catches up to them as they advance in their playing career and face better pitching. It’s unfortunate because with the proper instruction, many of these kids could have a shorter, more explosive swing which would lead to success.

One of the reasons most kids today have a “long swing” is the muscle memory they’ve developed through the years of using an aluminum bat. Years of using an aluminum bat creates a “sweeping motion” in most kids’ swings, which causes them to actually drag the barrel of the bat through the strike zone. When you sweep the bat through the strike zone, you are incorrectly training your hands to take the wrong path to the ball. You do not want to incorporate any of these bad habits into your swing!

How Can the Aluminum Bat Ruin or Delay Your Career?
Year after year, I see newly drafted players with both an extremely long swing and an ego to match. These guys have been fooled into thinking they are professional hitters when, in reality, they merely had an aluminum bat swing.

One player with whom I worked had a typical aluminum bat swing. He had great success in high school and college. He was drafted, by our scouts, in the first round. Unfortunately he was determined not to change his swing.

For the first two years he would not listen to instruction. After two years of struggling in the low minors (when he thought he would be in the big leagues), he started to listen.

He realized he had to change in order to have some success as a professional ball player. He eventually advanced to the AAA level, but he never attained the success to which his potential could have carried him. His lack of instant success was because of the development of an improper swing and the years of training muscle memory incorrectly. He fell short of reaching his potential.

What if 99% of your practice time created a bad habit that could cost you a college scholarship or Big League career? When would you want to change that habit?

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.

High school girls state championship buzzer-beater

Yesterday in honor of the NCAA Tournament, we showed you the 26 best buzzer-beaters from the 2012-23 college season. Today, while this isn’t college, we bring you a moment that 24 high school girls and the most raucous, enthusiastic crowd maybe ever to watch a girls high school game will never forget.