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Who is to Blame for the Decline in Youth Sports (Part 3)

By Brian Gotta, President of CoachDeck

(If you missed parts one and two in this series you may wish to read these first)

So, the parent who fears their child is being left behind, isn’t being taught the proper fundamentals by the rec coach, isn’t going to make the high school team and isn’t going to have a chance at a scholarship goes “all-in” and pushes them into a competitive club. And mostly for financial reasons, that club wants to play year-round, meaning there is not time for other sports. The parent believes that for their son or daughter to keep up, they must accept this paradigm which means that they are choosing for their child, sometimes as early as first grade, what single sport they are going to play the rest of their lives. Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred said he had spoken with the NBA, NFL and NHL commissioners and they agreed, “the best athlete is a kid who played multiple sports.” But in the new youth sports reality, which places an earlier emphasis on winning and elite skill development, this multi-sport athlete is becoming rare. And who do you think is more likely to get burned-out? Kids who get to recharge their baseball batteries while they play soccer and then basketball, or someone locked into a single sport year-round who fears they can’t step off the treadmill for a moment because if they do everyone else will pass them up?

Specialization has also led to in increase in overuse injuries. According to studies, athletes ages 7-18 who specialize in one sport are 1.5 times as likely to receive an overuse injury. Many youngsters either can’t, or choose not to, come back from these injuries, making them another sad statistic.

All of which creates a ton of pressure for the children. They figure out at an early age that this is terribly important business. Their parents are uptight about their progress. The coaches are deadly serious. The time investment is overwhelming. And they get the message, sometimes stated overtly but always implied, “If you don’t play well you won’t make the high school team.” Or, “We’re not going to be able to pay for you to go to college unless you get a scholarship”. Now go out there and have fun, kid!

And now, more than ever, sports have intense competition for kids’ affection. The days of, “Mom, I’m bored. There’s nothing to do,” answered by, “Then go outside and play!” are sadly in the past. Kids with smart phones, tablets and video games are never bored anymore, which is how the makers of those devices, apps and games intend it to be. I am convinced screen addiction is the number one problem of our children’s generation, and not only because of the impact it has on sports. But when an adolescent can choose between participating in a high-stakes event where one misstep might lead to a potential tongue-lashing from a coach, demotion, parental disappointment and a diminished future, or a trip to a fun fantasy world where the child is completely in control and safe, is it any wonder many pick the latter?

So is the solution limiting screen time for our children? That is absolutely a good idea in general, but it probably won’t have much impact on sports participation. Taking away something enjoyable so that an unpleasant activity is the only option is better than just giving in and allowing kids to live virtually all day. But we won’t be able to force them forever to do something they don’t enjoy. I’d rather see us fix sports so that our children would prefer to be on a team than alone online.

It is time we realize that the participation decline in youth sports is not a temporary fluctuation but, rather, a trend that shows no signs of reversing. We can effect change but it is going to take a multi-pronged approach. Programs such as the Urban Youth Academy created by Major League Baseball aimed at reviving the sport in the inner city provide opportunities for economically disadvantaged youth to compete with players who have access to the best equipment, private lessons and facilities. Our partners at PHITAmerica.org are promoting legislation to encourage activity in adolescents. And since the growth of travel sports shows no signs of leveling off, it is up to our recreational programs to step up and offer a more competitive product. It also might entail some creative marketing. If all the kids at school are bragging about winning their rec championship, if the local papers are congratulating the town champions and publishing their photo, in short if it becomes “cool” to play rec sports, more kids will want to spend at least some of their time there. All organizations, travel or rec, must put forth better coaching through education and observation. And this doesn’t necessarily mean improvement in terms of technical education. It means coaches who want to be there, who enjoy the experience and can relate to kids. Every player who quits because he didn’t have fun is another downward tick on the graph.

And finally, parents need to push their egos, fears and dreams aside. Your child is not playing so that you can brag about his or her accomplishments to your friends. Your child is not playing so you can say that they made the all-star or high school team. Your child is not playing so that you have one less college tuition to pay for. Your child should be out there because they love it. And if you don’t keep that in mind, the day may come soon when your child is not playing.

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

How to Work With Umpires (Part 1)

By Dave Holt

A baseball umpire is in a no-win situation. Every close play and every close pitch are going to have one side or the other upset.

Umps are rarely ever going to measure up. Since we know we are going to be on the bad end of calls much of the time it is best to make the baseball umpire nearly irrelevant.

Do not take up the umpires as big issue. Swallow your medicine and hope you get the next one to go your way.

If the baseball coaches take their focus off the umpires then the ballplayers will follow suit. If the coaches make a big issue of the umpires and consistently belly ache on numerous plays during the games then the baseball players and the baseball parents are going to imitate the baseball coaches.

Baseball Parents and Players: Don’t Worry With the Umps

Right off the bat we are going to make sure our players and baseball parents clearly understand how they are to react to umpires calls.

They are not going to be shaking their heads, pouting, or say anything to the umpire. Me, as the coach, will take care of that. I will say something when it is appropriate to say.

I am really making the player’s job easier. The kids just have to play ball and realize I (the coach) will be the one dealing with the umpires.

Parents: your job is much easier too, you just have to make sure the kids get to and from the games and baseball practices and show your support by enjoying the game.

Mr. Umpire. What is Your Name Sir?

We will not be addressing the umpires as ‘BLUE’. This is just about the most disrespectful way to treat another professional.

We will find out the umpires names and address them by name during the ball games.

Me, as the coach will write the umpires names on my lineup card in the dugout so we all get to know the umpires by name.

At no time will we call the umpires ‘BLUE’.

SIDE NOTE: I did have one private high school baseball team address me as ‘Mr. Blue’. I’m like ‘hey, at least the coach told the kids to throw a Mr. or a ‘Sir’ in there.’

Helping the Umpires With Foul Balls

Introduce yourself and call the umpire by name…NOT ‘BLUE

Any time a baseball umpire behind the plate needs baseballs we will have a baseball player or extra coach hustle out to the homeplate umpire and ‘HAND The UMPIRE’ the baseballs between pitches.

NEVER roll or toss the baseballs to the umpire and make the ump pick them up or try to catch the baseballs.

Watch the professional baseball teams next time you are at a professional baseball game and see how the batboys run the baseballs out to the umps between pitches. Make sure your on-deck hitter shags the foul balls around the backstop area so the umpire does not have to stop the game to pick up the foul balls.

Baseball Parents Your Job is to Do Nothing

Umpire meeting to go over ground rules and exchange line up cards.

If you ask most kids what they want their parents to do during the game, they would say, “NOTHING”. What that means is you do not have to say anything.

The kids just want to know that you enjoyed watching them and you really hope they have fun.

You do not ever COACH from the stands,

YELL encouraging things to your kids when they do well,

or SAY anything to the baseball umpires. Now, that does not mean you cannot clap for your children when they do well.

The main point is that you just have to hand your child to me as the coach, stand back and let me do my job.

Next month: Coach/Umpire Checklist

After finishing his professional playing career Dave spent eleven seasons managing in the Red Sox minor league system helping to develop several major league ballplayers. After leaving the Red Sox Dave managed and recruited in the Independent Professional Baseball leagues. He has also coached collegiate wood bat and high school teams. His site, coachandplaybaseball.com is a wealth of information for baseball players and coaches of all levels.

Players Must Train with Intention

By Dan Abrahams

Soccer players must train with intention. They must walk out onto the training pitch with a mind focused on improving. They must engage their brain so the skills they’re learning stick…and stick hard!

This sounds obvious right? This sounds like something every footballer would do. But in my experience this doesn’t necessarily happen. Too often footballers are willing and able to train with physical intensity, but lack the kind of mental intensity that helps them develop skill.

Let me be clear, it is mental intensity and NOT physicality during training that will separate a player from his or her peers. It isn’t good enough to just train with physical intensity. That won’t re-wire your brain to learn the kind of skills you need to be the very best you can be.

“I trained hard” shouldn’t mean that you ran about a lot. Training hard should mean that you set yourself a goal to improve a specific area of your game. It should mean that you found a way during your training session to improve this specific skill. It should mean that it felt uncomfortable as you worked on this skill – you risked looking stupid, you risked failure.

That’s what intentional training is – it’s specific, it’s uncomfortable, it’s risky. It’s mental intensity…

I’ll give you an example. You’re right footed and you want to improve your left foot. So during a small sided or keep ball game you decide to pass with your left foot every single time you get on the ball. You have to adjust your body position to receive the ball in this way. You have to be aware of the players around you that you can pass to using your left foot. That will be uncomfortable…it will be risky.

You see, players who train with intention are no excuse players. They don’t wait for their coaches to tell them what to do. They don’t moan or groan about training because they’re too busy getting the very most out of each and every session no matter what.

So if you’re a player reading this I urge you to train intentionally. If you’re a coach I invite you to help your players to train with intensity.

Dan Abrahams is a global sport psychologist, working alongside leading players, teams, coaches and organisations across the world. He is known for his passion and ability to de-mystify sport psychology, as well as his talent for creating simple to use techniques and performance philosophies, and he is the author of several sport psychology books as well as the founder of the Dan Abrahams Soccer Academy. You can order his books and contact him at https://danabrahams.com/books/

4 Times When Hard Work Doesn’t Equal More Playing Time (and “Daddy Ball” is Not to Blame)

By Angela Weight

A few days ago I posted the meme below on our Travel Ball Parents Facebook page. To my surprise, it soared in popularity, shared nearly 41,000 times (just from our page alone).

Yet it’s also been the most controversial thing I’ve posted in months. Like a sports parenting version of the Laurel vs Yanny debate, people were squarely on one side or the other. No fence sitters. And with typical social media bravado, many were hurling insults at complete strangers from their smart phones as fast as their thumbs could type.

I was slightly surprised at the black-and-white thinking of so many of us. No in between. Pick a side!

  1. If a kid is sitting the bench, then he/she must not be working hard enough.
  2. If a kid is sitting the bench, it’s because the coach is an unfair daddy-baller giving his own player and friends’ kids all the playing time.

When I originally posted the piece, I’d have wholeheartedly circled #1 on the pretend voting ballot above. But the more I considered the argument, well, it’s just not that simple. (As things seldom are.)

We’re told all our lives that hard work pays off…and most of the time, it does.

But not always. And when it doesn’t, daddy ball unfairness is not always the problem (much to the dismay of those who make a habit of blaming the coach for everything from bench time to climate change).

Here are four “riding-the-pine” situations which don’t fall under reasons #1 or #2.

1) The kid just isn’t that great of a ball player. (This is by far the most common scenario of the four.) Clichés like “practice makes perfect” promote the assumption that hard work will improve a person’s performance. (And 9 times out of 10, it probably does.) But we’ve all seen kids who work their butts off but are still among the weakest on their team. Some players are unknowingly practicing wrong mechanics, are working on the wrong things, etc. You could argue that this is the coach’s fault for not correcting the kid’s weaknesses and developing him to be just as strong as the three-hole hitter. But as I’ve covered in many other posts, the coach is a human being who has a finite amount of time and his own imperfections, like not spending as much time with his weaker players as he should (depending on the age group).

Last fall, a friend of my son’s was cut from a team he’d played on for years. He hustled as hard as he could at every practice, took batting and pitching lessons each week, had a great attitude and was always ready to jump in anywhere he was needed. But he just wasn’t progressing at the rate of the other players. His parents were clearly frustrated that their 13u son who worked so hard for playing time, was still on the bench half the time. But it was obvious to everyone that he wasn’t at the same level as his teammates. There was no “daddy ball,” no hidden agenda, no unfair persecution. What wasunfair was keeping this kid on a team where he couldn’t keep up with his peers. He didn’t need to work harder than he already was. What he needed was to drop down to a AA team where he could contribute on a more even playing field with kids who were at his same level.

There is NO shame in that. One could argue that the coach should’ve released him sooner. Yeah, well, maybe. I’ll save that topic for another post. The bottom line: Hard work alone doesn’t earn playing time. Hard work that leads to improved skills, making the player an asset to the team is what earns playing time. 

2) It’s His Attitude. At a recent team tryout, I watched a big, strong kid launch several balls deep into the outfield. He was clearly a good athlete. You could tell just by the way he carried himself. From what I observed, any team would be lucky to have him. A couple days later when the final roster was posted, I was surprised to not see his name. Thinking the coaches were idiots for not snatching him up, I asked why.

“Oh NO! We’re not going near that one! He’s NOT a team player, he blames his teammates for everything that goes wrong, doesn’t take responsibility for his actions and creates too much drama in the dugout. On his last team, his mouth got him benched more than his performance did,” replied one of the coaches. Sad.

3) The player is too specialized…or not versatile enough. Years ago, on a 12u team, we had a kid who was a great first baseman and not terribly interested in playing any other position. Unfortunately, he wasn’t the team’s only great first baseman, a fact that was discovered during his absence one weekend. In fact, the substitute first baseman, one could argue, was better at the position than the first kid. The coach tried to train him in the outfield, as a pitcher and really hoped he’d be interested in catching, as the team desperately needed a backup catcher. However, our friend was steadfast in his dedication to 1B and he worked very hard in practice… but he just didn’t fit into any of the positions where the coach could’ve used him the most. This definitely cost him playing time.

4) He isn’t following team rules. Some coaches’ rules may seem ridiculous, but they’re rules nonetheless. No cursing. Be on time to practice. Show up with all your gear or get benched. No showing insubordination. (See #2)

No swimming on game day has always been a biggie. A star player on our team once attended a pool party on the afternoon before that night’s all-star game. An hour later, photos of the kid jack knifing off the diving board showed up on Facebook where the coach saw his stunt and immediately substituted his spot in the lineup.

The parents were livid! They refused to acknowledge their/the kid’s responsibility for his bench time. In their minds, it was all because that SOB was an unfair daddy ball coach who didn’t care about anyone but his own child. The coach patiently explained to them why the boy wasn’t playing, but they would have none of it. It was easier for them to cry unfairness and play victims than to accept the consequences of breaking a rule. So in their minds, the coach was a horrible person who “had it out” for their innocent kid.

I even heard the mom say that it was because the coach was “jealous” of their kid. Okay, here’s a TBP soapbox rant. I get sick parents claiming that teammates/team parents don’t like them or avoid them because they’re just jealous. Honestly, when you’re always bragging about your kid’s athletic ability, his accomplishments, his invitations to other teams, his honor roll AGAIN, your new car, the cruise you just went on, all your social connections, blah, blah, blah….No one is jealous of you. They just don’t want to be around you. Ever notice how no one is “jealous” of the quiet all-star kid whose parents mind their own business and stay out of team drama? There’s a reason for that. End of rant.

Team rules are for everyone. And any coach worth his clipboard will enforce them consistently and equally. If your kid is benched because he broke a rule, then he needs to stop breaking rules.

Final thoughts. I’m not saying that “daddy ball” doesn’t exist. It does. And the motivations of a daddy ball coach are certainly to blame for some kids’ excessive bench time….. but not as often as many of us think.

Travel Ball Parents is run by veteran baseball moms, Angela Weight of Richmond, VA and Kari Hicks of Buffalo, NY, covering all things travel ball related, with a big dose of humor thrown in. Visit our website travelballparents.com

Little League state tournaments in full swing

No pun intended, but Little League’s have moved through the exciting district championship round and state tournaments are taking place around the country. Every team still alive has that dream trip to Williamsport and the Little League World Series in mind. Good luck to all CoachDeck clients! We will update you later with results from some of our customers!

College football cupcakes

John Coon of Athlonsports.com has ranked the ten most embarrassing “cupcake” or mismatch games of the upcoming 2018 season. And this doesn’t even include Incarnate Word vs. New Mexico. Wouldn’t it be great if one of these teams pulled an upset? Schedule up if you want to go to the playoff!

Are punishment drills a productive coaching tool?

From our friends at TrueSport.org:

Do you make your team run laps as punishment?

Using exercise as a form of consequence isn’t a new tactic in coaching. But is it an effective and healthy tool?

Framing physical activity as fun, instead of punishment, can offer long-term benefits. Check out these alternatives to using exercise as punishment in your sport.

Must be that time of the year

Yes, Little League all-stars are in full swing and we have a controversy to bring you. Two “rival’ Little Leagues (is that an oxymoron?) are at odds over the eligibility of several all-star players. When private investigators get involved, you know it’s serious business. Courtesy NBC San Diego.com

Little League snack bar ransacked

Well, this might sound like a sad story, and in many ways it is, but there is redemption. The Vista National Little League snack bar was broken into and ransacked recently but, as often happens in these situations, the incident brought out the best in others. Volunteers spent hours cleaning and repairing and a local company called, Eat Clean Meal Prep has stepped up to help restock! You can go to the Vista National website and donate if you’d like to help from afar.