Happy Halloween!

And what better way to celebrate it than with photos of 75 great sports pumpkin carvings! Flip through these and have a safe and spooky holiday!

Hilarious sports GIF’s

Heavy.com compiled nearly fifty humorous sports GIF’s. We went through them, weeded out the crude and less funny, to bring you the cream of the crop below. Enjoy!

Read the October 2013 OnDeck Newsletters

With articles by Tony Earp, Steve Henson, Nate Barnett and more, you’ll want to check out both this month’s soccer edition and baseball edition of our OnDeck Newsletter.

Make sure you receive tomorrow’s OnDeck Newsletter!

Sign up here to receive the October, 2013 issue of OnDeck for Soccer and/or Baseball/Softball. This issue will contain some great articles and offers you won’t want to miss.

Are sports ruining our high schools?

The cover of the October issue of The Atlantic reads, “How Sports Are Ruining High School”. Author Amanda Ripley’s article, “The Case Against High School Sports” outlines the costs, financial and otherwise, incurred as a result of high school sports programs. She brings up some valid points. But there’s a lot she gets wrong.

If you would like, you can read Ms. Ripley’s article here. To summarize, she believes that our American culture is so obsessed with sports that we are more focused there than academics. She opines that not only does that focus detract from classroom performance for those who play, it causes students not involved in athletics to suffer as well. Money spent on sports programs could go to scholastic enrichment, she says. Less-qualified teachers are hired, only because they can coach. Ripley sites statistics from nations that do not emphasize athletics in high school that are out-performing the United States in graduation rates. She points to other cultures where parents are at home “practicing” math with their children instead of sports, and driving them just like a coach towards academic achievement. The author assumes that this is something inherently better for the child and for society.

The flip side of this argument of course, is what about the students who may not have a parent at home waiting for them after school with a plate of warm cookies and an open math book? We have all heard of inner-city students whose only guidance came from a coach or a sports team. These may be at-risk kids who would have no reason to stay in school were it not for the athletic programs offered and the fact that they had to perform at minimum grade standards to participate.

Most people believe kids should be well-rounded, not one-dimensional. Is it healthy for a child to get up early to go to tutoring, take a full day of the most challenging high school classes available, followed by an afternoon of SAT prep training then a late night of Advanced Placement homework with no outlet, no focus on anything other than academics? Of course, sports are not for everyone. And Ripley makes the argument that while it is a minority that plays sports, the entire student body is affected for the reasons mentioned above. But even then, plenty of non-athletes still enjoy their schools’ athletics as fans. Attending Friday night football or basketball games, cheering for the team with friends, can be a fun and memorable part of the high school experience. Perhaps The Atlantic feels those children would be better-served if they spent that time alone at home on their computers. And the article did not mention that there are plenty of schools that offer athletic programs and still boast incredibly high graduation rates as well as tremendous college placement results. The extremes – on both sides of the spectrum – are what we should take care to avoid.

Are there high schools in the country that might go over-the-top in their football programs and funnel too much money and attention there, when they should be thinking more about academics? Probably. But I’m not buying that the reason the United States ranks twentieth in the world in high school graduation rates has anything to do with our sports. Just four months before this issue, The Atlantic published the “surprise findings” that our nation’s high school grad rate had reached it’s highest point in forty years. And we all know that also increasing over the past forty years to its highest point ever has been our interest and participation in high school sports. Statistically speaking, I’d say that makes a pretty good case that sports are not ruining, but enriching, our nation’s schools.

As reported by the Los Angeles Times’ Eric Sondheimer, The L.A. Union School District has discovered a striking correlation between students’ participation in interscholastic athletics and their performance in both attendance and in the classroom. According to the study, the 35,000 student-athletes in LAUSD attended an average of 21 more days of school per year than their counterparts, while they also sported GPAs some 0.55 to 0.74 points higher than non-athletes.

“[The study statistics] prove what has generally been assumed, that participation in high school athletics, on average, positively enhances the student’s academic progress in comparison with the rest of the student body,” LAUSD commissioner of athletics Barbara Fiege said in a memo to the districts schools, obtained by the Times. “I believe that a large part of this,” she continued,  “is due to the intervention and guidance provided daily by qualified coaches, who understand the relationship between academic and athletic success.”

When my children were in grade school I used to pray that they would be on a team – any team, all the way through high school so that they had something positive to do, to aspire to, and would not be like the teenagers I saw just “hanging out” and doing who-knows-what. Throw all the statistics out the window. I can tell you from personal experience seeing the impact sports has had on my kids and their clean-nosed friends who are also teammates, we should be finding ways to ensure there are more athletics in our nation’s high schools, not fewer.

Brian Gotta is President of CoachDeck LLC (www.coachdeck.com). He can be reached at brian@coachdeck.com.

Three Things You Must Know About BP

By Nate Barnett, The Pitching Academy

Baseball is a precision sport. What I mean by this is that it takes an extreme amount of skill development in order to produce consistent results offensively. Consider that a professional hitter who succeeds in getting a base hit 30% of the time for the duration of his career is most likely Hall of Fame bound. No other sport (besides maybe soccer) holds this low of a success rate in such high esteem. Shooting 50% from the field is not too uncommon in the NBA. NFL Quarterbacks are expected to complete above 60% of their passes.

Because of the difficulty of baseball swing, it is absolutely essential to learn the correct mechanics and mental approach to hitting at a young age IF the goal is to play high level baseball. Playing baseball simply for recreational fun doesn’t require the kind of work I discuss in this article. This piece is not being written for that crowd. This article is a blueprint for the serious athlete who is willing to devote the time it takes to become great. I focus here on one often abused aspect of a baseball workout, batting practice.

Don’t take offense to the statement I’m going to make about you. Take it as a challenge to really look at how you facilitate batting practice. There is very high probability that you are doing damage to your swing (or your kid’s swing) in your batting practice sessions. Let me explain the basis for my statement.

Each time I work with an athlete in a cage, next to me is some dude going through nothing short of an aerobic exercise and swinging at full capacity until he’s worked up a serious sweat. You’ve all seen it. Batting practice is a 100% physical activity for most. The goal is then to get the most amount of swings possible in a short time period. Sure, the drills may change from tee, to side toss, to front toss, to full length batting practice. But, the goal of the BP session stays the same; get the most swings in as you can. Three to five buckets later, the exhausted athlete leaves the cage feeling he made progress because of the sheer number of swings taken. What he doesn’t realize is that he’s just cemented bad habits in place without knowing it. Dad pats him on the back as they both walk out of the cage and tells him good job.

I’m not criticizing the quantity of time spent, I’m criticizing the approach to batting practice that the vast majority of athletes, parents, and coaches use. Here then is the absolutely necessary approach to batting practice that must be in place if you’re going to reach your true potential. There is no way around it, no shortcuts, no secret tricks, no magic potion. If you follow my blueprint, I assure you that over time you’ll become a more accomplished hitter. One that will make you stand out offensively. Let’s dig in.

Step 1: The Goal

The simple goal of batting practice to become more in tune with your swing each time you step into the cage. If you have a good round of batting practice and your swing feels good, as a hitting instructor, I want to know exactly why you feel good. Conversely, if your round is horrible and nothing feels right, I want to know if you know why it feels so badly. Without this self awareness as well as mechanical competency, you’re dead in the water.

So the first part of your new batting practice philosophy centers on self awareness. If you lack the ability to differentiate between a mechanically correct swing and incorrect swing, your focus should be on building that knowledge. Once you’ve got an understanding of key components in the swing, then spend your cage time becoming more in tune with the pieces of your mechanics. It’s the only way to build consistency swing to swing.

Step 2: The Time Spent

If you’re in season and you’re not hitting at minimum 5 times per week, you are not getting better. At best you’re maintaining your swing, but most likely your skills are slipping if you’re not in the cages 5 days per week.

Because of the technicality of the baseball swing, it is impossible to stay in tune with the feel of the parts of the swing without practicing regularly. A couple summers ago I was golfing with a few parents of some athletes I was working with at the time. The course was fast and tricky and I golf infrequently at most. As the round dragged on, it was apparent that I was spending more time hunting in the weeds for the ball than I was playing on the fairway.

Frustration was mounting and the guys I was playing with noticed. One of them asked how much I played golf. I said a few times per summer. He then offered the advice that his golf instructor told him in college. He said that practicing 5 times per week would improve the swing. Otherwise, consistency could not be expected.

Unfortunately, most of the hitters I work with don’t reach this expectation. It takes self-discipline, and a willingness to put aside some of the distractions in life to work on developing a skill.

In sum, I need you to understand how significant it is to learn proper hitting mechanics and you won’t just “figure it out” on your own. We’ve got a bunch of good articles on our site for you to begin with. Secondly, you must increase your weekly hitting practice.

But, I caution you, increased work habit without proper understanding of hitting mechanics will be disastrous for your swing.

Step 3: The Feeling

Finally, I’ve got to discuss the importance of becoming in tune with your swing. I got a text from a sophomore in HS this afternoon that read, “How can I get more power to the opposite field gap?”

I gave him a reminder of things with his lower half need to work better for this to happen. (I’ve worked with him for years so he understands this instruction in a text.)

The point here is that he took that information and went to work tonight on a piece of his swing that was needing modification. Good athletes feel when they have their mechanics right. Poor athletes never get past the question as to whether or not their mechanics are correct in the first place.

So, when you step into the cage, the sign that you truly understand the feeling of correct mechanics comes when you are working on small drills that isolate parts of your swing that either need fixing or that need to simply be maintained.

I like to use the example of an auto mechanic. Most of us wouldn’t send our car to a shop where the mechanics knew all of the parts to the car, but didn’t know how to tell which of the parts needed fixing. On the same note, good hitters don’t simply stop with knowledge on what pieces of the swing are supposed to occur. They, know what it feels like when something is wrong and how to isolate and fix it.

When I work with hitters, most of the time I’m trying to facilitate a sense of how the movements feel to the athlete. Once I can solidify in an athlete’s mind the difference between what a proper and improper swing feels like, then I know we’ve made some progress.

How’s all this relate to the batting cage again?

It’s a three step process:

1. Have a plan to accomplish something you need to fix first and foremost. NEVER, just hop in the cage and take some swings unless you plan on getting something out of it. Bad habits will set in before you know it.

2. Learn mechanics well. Think of yourself as a swing mechanic. Know the pieces of the swing and how they are supposed to work.

3. Develop an understanding of how each part of your swing is supposed to feel. This way, you can isolate through drill work parts of your mechanics that need fine tuning.

There you have it. The recipe for a good quality BP philosophy is within your grasp. The only thing separating you from great athletes is a willingness to learn and understand. Read, ask questions, and watch what the guys are doing in the Bigs. Take what you learn and apply it to your game and watch yourself do great things on the field.

Nate Barnett is a hitting, pitching, and mental skills coach residing in the Puget Sound area in Washington State. He played in the Seattle Mariners organization and is co-owner of the The Pitching Academy.

What Makes a Nightmare Sports Parent and What Makes a Great One (Part 1 of 2)

By Steve Henson

Hundreds of college athletes were asked to think back: “What is your worst memory from playing youth and high school sports?”

Their overwhelming response: “The ride home from games with my parents.”

The informal survey lasted three decades, initiated by two former longtime coaches who over time became staunch advocates for the player, for the adolescent, for the child. Bruce E. Brown and Rob Miller of Proactive Coaching LLC are devoted to helping adults avoid becoming a nightmare sports parent, speaking at colleges, high schools and youth leagues to more than a million athletes, coaches and parents in the last 12 years.

Those same college athletes were asked what their parents said that made them feel great, that amplified their joy during and after a ballgame.

Their overwhelming response: “I love to watch you play.”

There it is, from the mouths of babes who grew up to become college and professional athletes. Whether your child is just beginning T-ball or is a travel-team soccer all-star or survived the cuts for the high school varsity, parents take heed.

The vast majority of dads and moms that make rides home from games miserable for their children do so inadvertently. They aren’t stereotypical horrendous sports parents, the ones who scream at referees, loudly second-guess coaches or berate their children. They are well-intentioned folks who can’t help but initiate conversation about the contest before the sweat has dried on their child’s uniform.

In the moments after a game, win or lose, kids desire distance. They make a rapid transition from athlete back to child. And they’d prefer if parents transitioned from spectator – or in many instances from coach – back to mom and dad. ASAP.

Brown, a high school and youth coach near Seattle for more than 30 years, says his research shows young athletes especially enjoy having their grandparents watch them perform.

“Overall, grandparents are more content than parents to simply enjoy watching the child participate,” he says. “Kids recognize that.”

A grandparent is more likely to offer a smile and a hug, say “I love watching you play,” and leave it at that.

Meanwhile a parent might blurt out …

“Why did you swing at that high pitch when we talked about laying off it?”

“Stay focused even when you are on the bench.”

“You didn’t hustle back to your position on defense.”

“You would have won if the ref would have called that obvious foul.”

“Your coach didn’t have the best team on the field when it mattered most.”

And on and on.

Sure, an element of truth might be evident in the remarks. But the young athlete doesn’t want to hear it immediately after the game. Not from a parent. Comments that undermine teammates, the coach or even officials run counter to everything the young player is taught. And instructional feedback was likely already mentioned by the coach.

“Let your child bring the game to you if they want to,” Brown says.

Brown and Miller, a longtime coach and college administrator, don’t consider themselves experts, but instead use their platform to convey to parents what three generations of young athletes have told them.

“Everything we teach came from me asking players questions,” Brown says. “When you have a trusting relationship with kids, you get honest answers. When you listen to young people speak from their heart, they offer a perspective that really resonates.”

So what’s the takeaway for parents?

“Sports is one of few places in a child’s life where a parent can say, ‘This is your thing,’ ” Miller says. “Athletics is one of the best ways for young people to take risks and deal with failure because the consequences aren’t fatal, they aren’t permanent. We’re talking about a game. So they usually don’t want or need a parent to rescue them when something goes wrong.

“Once you as a parent are assured the team is a safe environment, release your child to the coach and to the game. That way all successes are theirs, all failures are theirs.”

And discussion on the ride home can be about a song on the radio or where to stop for a bite to eat. By the time you pull into the driveway, the relationship ought to have transformed from keenly interested spectator and athlete back to parent and child:

“We loved watching you play. … Now, how about that homework?”

Steve Henson is Senior Editor, Major League Baseball at USA Today Sports Media Group. You can follow him on Twitter at @HensonUSAToday

Pregame speech

By Tony Earp

Like any coach before a game, I carefully think about what I am going to say to the players to help them play to the best of their ability. I talk about what our goals are for the game as a team and individually. It is important to make sure all the players are on the same page in that respect. Then I try to motivate the players and have an impact on their mindsets before stepping on to the field. My goal is to get the kids motivated to play and excited about the game. In the past, I have talked about working hard, giving it your best, you are the better team, you have to earn it today, and other things my coaches use to say to me. I now realize that my approach may not have been the best thing for the players before the start of a game.

Reviewing the team’s goals for the game is always important and should be part of every pregame talk with the players. This is a critical part of getting players ready to play and connecting the week’s practice sessions to what you want to see the players attempt during the game. This will always be part of what I talk about before a game with any team.

It is the next part that I have fallen short over the years with my players. I was just doing what my coaches used to do and what I see in the movies. For example, “Miracle” is one of my favorite movies of all time and the pregame speech before the game against the Soviets is my favorite scene of any movie. There was an important element to that speech that I have missed before and I now include in every pregame speech. Coach Brooks says, “It is your time.”

Although he may have meant it in a different way, it highlights something missing in my instructions to my players in the past. Simply, it is about them. It is their time. The game is their time. It is their time to be kids, be players, compete, have fun, succeed, or fail. In the end, it is just about them. This seems obvious, as “it is about the kids” is about as cliché as it gets, but how often do coaches actually remind the kids of that before they step on the field?

My goal was always to motivate, so I would put on my coach’s hat and say things to try to get the kids excited about playing. I might say something like, “Remember the last time you played them?” Did I really think the kids were going to go out and play better because of they wanted revenge? Is that really the best motivator to compete? If they win, then what is their motivation the next time they play the same team?

With this in mind, did I really even need to get the kids excited to play? I was always excited to play. My coach never got me more excited about it. I loved to play and I wanted to play more than anything else. Nothing that was said right before the game made me want to compete more than I already did. And if I needed that motivation, that would be a problem that a few words would not solve.

I have started to rethink what I say to players before a game. After the instructions are given and the game is about to start, I thought about what the player really need to hear. This is along the lines of what I came up with:

You had a great week of training and you are prepared for today. Today is about you. It is not about me or your parents. It is not about anything that happened before this game or will happen after this game. It is about you, right now, and your opportunity to play the game. Play today the way you want to play, in a way that would make you proud, and in a way that would make your teammates proud. I want you to enjoy every second you have on the field and make the most out of it. I look forward to watching you play and compete today.

This is a little different than what is normally heard before a player takes the field. As a player would you be ready to play after hearing this? Again, I think players for the most part are already excited about playing. In terms of helping their mentality and their approach to the game, this should help the players put the game in perspective and focus on what is most important when the game begins.

The best teams and players play with this type of mentality all the time. You hear it during interviews pretty frequently. Watch Sportscenter the next chance you get and see what the winning and losing players/teams talk about in the locker room. The players on the winning team will talk a lot about wanting to make sure they played well for their teammates (and the fans) and could be proud of the effort they gave at the end of the game. The players on the losing team will refer to the fact it was not their best effort and they are not proud of their performance. Often, they will go as far as, “my teammates deserve more from me.”

Even at the professional level, the game is about the player, and those athletes view it that way. When the whistle blows and the game starts, it is about them in that moment and in that game. It is about them enjoying it and giving their best effort at all times. As a coach, before a game begins, take the opportunity to remind youth athletes of that fact. Ironically, even though the kids are not the ones being paid to play, they often approach the game as if it is a job.

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

This won’t take long to watch

Want to see the fastest goal in MLS history? It took seven seconds for Tim Cahill to knock in the first goal of the game for the New York Red Bulls against the Houston Dynamo.

Ohio State Marching Band

The OSU Marching Band did a tribute to the anniversary of Michael Jackson’s Thriller. The performance was over eleven minutes long, which will seem short if you’re into marching bands. If you don’t have eleven minutes to spend, forward ahead to about the four minute mark and watch the band transform into a moonwalking Jackson. Pretty cool.