Letters from athletes to their younger selves

We found this piece from ESPN The Magazine a fascinating and worthwhile read. Twelve stars, including Andy Murray, Aaron Rodgers, Dwight Howard, Abby Wambach, Robbie Rogers, write letters of advice to themselves as young athletes. If you have children who play sports or do any other activity seriously, you’ll want to share it with them.

New starting lineup?

The Sacramento Kings did a promotion where fans could win season tickets if they hit a half-court shot. They were in for a surprise as five, (coincidence that this is the same number of players on the floor?) accomplished the feat. See it here.

June OnDeck Newsletters

If you didn’t catch them, you can read our June, 2013 OnDeck Newsletters for soccer and baseball here.

I Want to Play in College

By Tony Earp

Great! That is awesome. You have been working your heart out since you were very young and you have got to a point where you are able to consider the option to play college soccer. It is something very special and an amazing experience for those who are lucky enough to get a chance. Now, the next point is deciding where you want to play and how. Unfortunately, this becomes the most difficult part of the process of getting to play soccer in college. There is a lot to consider and a lot of work to do on the athlete’s part OFF the soccer field. So, let’s get started…

Although below is not a comprehensive list of areas that are important for a player to consider, these are some major areas for a player to research when deciding where they want to play college soccer. As it says in the commercials, most college athletes go “pro” in something other than sports, so many of the things that should be considered are NOT soccer related:

Many student athletes want to stay close to home and others want to move far away. College is a great time to live in another part of the country and experience life away from home. With that being said, some kids find comfort with having their home and family close by.

Location is important because a player will actually spend most of their time away from the soccer field. Being home sick or not enjoying the town or city where the school is located can quickly over shadow a great soccer experience.

When researching a school, it is important to look into the community and surrounding areas. Does it seem like a place that would be enjoyable to live for the next four or more years?

Size of School:
A large school and campus with many students can make some kids feel like they are a drop of water in the ocean. A small school can make you feel like you are on a desert island with the same 5 people. The size of a school will impact a college experience. One is not better than the other, but one is definitely better than the other for you.

This is purely a personal preference. I wanted to be a part of a larger university with lots of things to do and different experiences offered. I was not sure what I wanted to major in and the larger schools I looked at had many more options for areas of study. I was not nervous about being in a large classroom or not getting as much personal attention from professors. As a student, I was always more of the person who just wanted to listen to the professor, study and read on my own, and then take the examination/test.

That would not work for everyone and a large university can make a person feel lost among the masses. Smaller universities may help students find an identity inside a smaller community of students and staff. A smaller campus may have better opportunities in a more limited fashion, but fit exactly what the student is looking for during their time in college.

My two favorite options to play college soccer were SMU and The Ohio State University. A big part of my decision to play at OSU was that I wanted to attend a larger university. When I was on SMU’s campus, I felt like I saw everything in a matter of minutes. At OSU, I was there for an entire weekend and felt I had not even scratched the surface of seeing everything. For some reason, that really appealed to me.

This is key. If a player already knows what he or she wants to study in college, soccer is a great way to get into a school that not only offers that major but specializes in that specific degree. As I mentioned before, the vast majority of college athletes, move on to a professional job after they are done playing. Soccer, like other sports, can open the door for players to attend a university that will set them up for what they want to do for the rest of their life.

If you are like me and are not sure what you want to study, it is important to find a school that has strong programs over a greater range of degrees. Ohio State is highly respected school in many areas of study, and this made me feel more confident about attending with not knowing what I was going to major in before I enrolled. Had I been certain about what I wanted to study, my college choice may have been different. Perhaps I would have looked for a school that specialized in that area. (Next: Weighing costs and team roster).

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

June OnDeck Newsletter goes out tomorrow

We’ll be sending the June, 2013 issue of our popular OnDeck Newsletter tomorrow. You’re certain to enjoy the articles and offers we’ve put together this month. If you don’t already subscribe and would like to, register to receive OnDeck in your inbox each month!

Shane Battier celebrates at Denny’s

No mansion parties, no all-night clubs, just a Grand Slam and a glass of water. That’s how Shane Battier celebrated the Miami Heat NBA Championship. Class, humble guy.

A different perspective on youth sports

We recently donated a quantity of CoachDecks to the Wildcat Baseball League in Fort Wayne, Indiana. As a young boy, I played in this league, and then I worked for seven summers through high school and college as a Wildcat coach. I began to think about how different Wildcat is from conventional baseball and soccer leagues in which I’ve been involved. And I wonder if we could learn from what sets them apart.

Wildcat originated in 1959 when Dale McMillen (Mr. Mac) a Fort Wayne businessman and philanthropist, attended a local youth league baseball tryout and saw the disappointment on the faces of the children who were “cut” and would not be allowed to play. He believed there should be a place where any child who wished to play baseball could, regardless of skill, ability, race or creed. He provided the funding, and since 1960, the league has served hundreds of thousands of youth in the area. The only cost to join is a modest donation (less than $10.00) for a T-shirt and cap that all Wildcatters wear.

What makes Wildcat unique? First of all, there is no parental involvement. Each site, (usually at a middle school) is staffed by 4-6 employees – high school and college students – overseen by a Director; usually a local community school teacher. The staff begins the season with a few days of assessments, so that they can try to form teams as evenly as possible. Yet, regardless of ability, every child will be placed on a team. In fact, that is and always has been the league motto: Everybody Makes the Team.

Each team is scheduled for two games and a practice per week and the staff oversees their events, but don’t actually coach individual teams. Usually, two staff members handle a game. One will umpire and the other will be in the dugout with the team up to bat, keeping track of the scorebook and watching over the kids. Once the lineup is set at the first game, it stays that way for the season. Each new game, the batting order simply picks up where it left off the previous time to ensure everyone gets equal turns. Coaches frequently pause the game to provide individual instruction to players who need help. Because no adult coach is attached to any single team, there is no interference in the outcome of the contest. The kids decide if they should steal or bunt. You’ll never see a coach yelling at players or arguing with umpires. No one is forced to sit on the bench more than their share.

When I say there is no parental involvement, I don’t just mean on the field. Usually the bleachers are curiously devoid of moms and dads watching in the stands. Parents aren’t exactly discouraged from attending – its OK if they want to come out – they just usually don’t bother. Why? Maybe its because its so low key they don’t feel the need to observe like they might in a more pressured environment. No one is playing Wildcat to “get to the next level.” Most parents drop their youngsters off at what they know to be a safe place, and then come back and pick them up ninety minutes later. Many kids ride their bikes to games and practices.

The lack of emphasis on winning doesn’t mean the players are just out there to fool around. The league teaches good fundamentals, keeps standings, stages championship games, and each site even holds all-star games at the end of the season. (Yet the all-star participants are picked impartially, by staff with no vested interest; not by parents jockeying to make sure their kids are on the team). I have several Wildcat League Championship trophies up in my attic somewhere. But the biggest trophy handed out, and the only individual award, is one that anyone can win. It is the Perfect Attendance Award, (I also have a few of those). I can remember, when I was a coach taking role for a team at their final practice of the summer, checking off a youngster’s name and seeing him try to hide his smile. He knew that he’d made it. And he was thinking about that huge trophy he’d be getting at next week’s award ceremony.

When I talked with the current directors at the Wildcat League office, I learned that now they offer girls softball. We didn’t have that when I played or coached. Some kids who play Wildcat also participate in the more competitive local programs that hold their games in the evenings. These youngsters just want to get in more baseball during the day, which is great. For others, their Wildcat team is their one and only sports experience. And I think that is great too.

When Mr. Mac formed the league fifty-three years ago, we don’t know if he foresaw all of today’s modern issues in the youth sports landscape stemming from over-zealous parents and coaches, or if the structure he chose was just a coincidence. We do know he proudly referred to the Wildcat Baseball League as “the greatest thing I ever did.” To him it is a living monument embodied in each player who benefits from the program.  His motto reflects the spirit he wanted to pass on to our youth: “This day I will beat my own record.”

The vast majority of what happens in traditional sports leagues in North American is good and positive. The backbone of youth athletics is, and always will be, the parent-volunteer. But as Dale McMillen’s legacy lives on each summer on ball fields throughout a small city in northern Indiana, perhaps his greatest accomplishment can be to remind the rest of us what matters most – the kids who play the game.

Brian Gotta is a former professional youth baseball coach and current volunteer Little League coach and board member. He is the President of CoachDeck and also author of four youth sports novels which can be found at www.sportsbooks4kids.com. He can be reached at brian@coachdeck.com.

Little League drama

A Little League in Arizona felt they had an integrity issue to deal with and there is some outrage over the board’s action. Some feel that a coach may have illegally stacked his team with travel-ball players. The coach denies any wrongdoing. Not only is it sad when youth baseball comes to this but, as we’ve written several times, if the proper draft procedures are followed, the process is documented and made public prior to the draft, all of this mess can be avoided.

Definition of a true fan

We can learn a lot about the meaning of being a fan from the L.A. Times’ Bill Plaschke’s article about fifth-grader Casey Johnstone’s graduation speech. Casey is a Dodgers fan, though he lives in the heart of the Dodgers’ rival, San Francisco Giants, territory. You can also watch his 50-second speech complete with gasps from an amused crowd.

Teens, father, convicted in volunteer referee’s death

You’ve probably already read this tragic story from the Netherlands, but yesterday a ruling came down in the case that surprised some, and left many calling for a harsher penalty.