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Don’t miss tomorrow’s OnDeck Newsletter

Make sure you sign up to receive tomorrow’s OnDeck Newsletter! You won’t want to miss the great articles on coach communication, travel vs. recreational sports and more!

Me First or Team First?

All four of my kids played recreational sports while also playing on club teams. That dynamic continued through high school. There were clearly pluses and minuses to both. But as youth sports trends toward more involvement in travel leagues, there is one important factor to consider.

It is likely that everyone reading this, to some degree, is involved in youth sports. And it is also likely that the lessons children acquire by participating are among the major reasons we want our kids to play. We love that they learn that hard work leads to success, that failure is temporary and can be overcome with effort and resilience. Both of these can be taught to players in recreational as well as competitive sports. So, if this is true, that the essentials of work ethic and bouncing back from adversity are learned in either environment, what difference does it make which path is chosen?

As I said, my kids played both. My daughter played rec and high school soccer, as well as club. It was the club soccer that got her a college scholarship. My three boys played Little League (with me as coach) and high school baseball, while simultaneously playing travel ball. Here was the big difference between the two: In competitive sports no one really cared about winning. In rec and high school, that is all they cared about.

I’ll start with my daughter: When her high school career came to an end with a playoff loss, she was inconsolable. Her school had never won a city girls soccer title and she wanted it more than I can describe. A championship would have been huge news to the entire school. There would be a banner hanging in the gym forever. Her regular league games against our bigger, rival school just a couple miles down the road were wars. She would have traded her best personal game ever for a team win.

Contrast that with her club team. It was a very good team which several times went to national playoffs with a chance to win a U.S. championship. And all the girls would have liked to have won. But winning was secondary. Because they all also knew that scouts from every major college were watching. Each of them would have rather scored a spectacular goal in a losing cause than play poorly and win. It was twenty individuals wearing the same jersey. And they knew that outside of themselves and their parents, no one else would know or care whether they finished as national champs or also-rans.

As I mentioned, I coached my three boys in Little League. We had a great league, and all of my sons’ friends also played. Every year the talk in the schoolyard was about who was going to win the championship. The players on the team that had won the previous season had bragging rights. It didn’t matter if you were a star or a part-time player, you wanted to be able to say, “we beat you.”

My oldest son, now a pro baseball player, has coached some travel baseball in the off-season and says he thinks travel ball is killing the sport. In his observation, none of the kids want to be out there. No one cares if they win or lose. When my second son, now also in the pro ranks, heard this he confided that he used to hate our travel ball games when he was young. He said he never would have admitted it then, but he always dreaded them. Why would this be? A Little League game on Saturday against his friends from school, the most fun he ever had. Then a club game on Sunday against guys he didn’t know, he wished he didn’t have to go. They were both baseball games. But they were different.

So my contention is this: While there are many benefits to travel sports, where it lacks is in the teaching of some of the most important lessons learned in athletics: Teamwork. Putting the good of the team ahead of yourself. And winning.

Now a cynic might say he doesn’t care about any of these things if his kid gets a scholarship to play in college. But are we shortchanging our youngsters in life by thinking short-term? Are we robbing them of valuable experience by taking them out of youth league baseball and softball in favor of travel, or by having them play Academy soccer instead of high school?

Are we raising a generation of kids who are going to learn that they should look out for themselves first and others later, if at all? Are we bringing up children who will never know what it is like to really be part of a team that is all pulling for a common goal instead of individual accomplishment? Teamwork isn’t just about sports. It’s about getting along with friends and family, about being successful in the workplace years after athletic careers are over. When will those lessons be learned if not on the youth play fields?

Years ago I read an article in the Los Angeles Times sports section about the number of kids opting for travel baseball instead of high school. There was a quote from the USC head baseball coach that I’ll paraphrase which was, ‘I like kids who play high school because they care about winning.’ Even the worst cynic who isn’t concerned about his children being taught teamwork and self sacrifice would probably want them to learn to win. Sports have always had an important place in our society, for good reason. But when team sports really just become individual sports being played by a bunch of youngsters at the same time, I wonder if what is gained isn’t outweighed by what we’ve lost.

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

You Blew the Game Coach and it Wasn’t My Bad Call!

By Larry Cicchiello

I umpired an extremely competitive and closely fought high school baseball game a couple of days ago. My assignment was to be the field umpire and my partner was assigned to home plate. We had our pregame conference with both head coaches and they both seemed like terrific guys. We shake hands and we all wish each other good luck. Boy, things can really change in a hurry and so can personalities.

About the fourth inning, a player on one of the teams is taking a very HUGE lead off second base. After about three pitches, the catcher throws behind him to second base. Everything looked like the runner was going to be picked off. The throw from the catcher arrived at second base and beat the runner there. But the throw was high and the runner had very good speed and got back to second base a split second before being tagged. So I correctly made the “safe” call. This is when I heard the first of two grumblings from, let’s call him Coach Joe. Come on blue…that throw beat him, etc. He whined for about ten seconds so I let it go and didn’t say a word. If he continued longer than that or if he said something inappropriate, I would have not hesitated to have a “chat” with him.

OK, so things settle down and we get back to playing baseball. That is until the seventh and final inning. Coach Joe’s team is at bat in the seventh and final inning and are trailing by a run. They have a runner on second base, in scoring position, representing the tying run. There are two outs and they are a base hit away from tying up the game. Like I said, very close and very competitive ball game!

The pitch to the batter is in the dirt and bounces away from the catcher, but only about three feet away. Coach Joe is coaching third base and yells for his runner to break for third base. The runner sprints for third base. The catcher makes a very quick and good throw that is slightly high. I knew it was quick, not because I was watching the catcher but by how quickly it arrived to third base.

The third baseman makes a very quick tag and tags the runner up high, around the chest area. Yours truly makes the right call…”He’s OUT!” Coach Joe is very upset. Like I said, personalities can change in a hurry on the ball field. I’m walking off the field and Coach Joe hollers to me, “He got him in the head.” I asked Coach Joe what he meant by that. He said that he tagged him up high, the runner was safe. I told Coach Joe I could care less where he tagged him.

I’m now in foul territory and Coach Joe yells to me, “That’s two calls you blew.” (He was referring to the other “banger” I had at second base where I called the runner safe.) I decided to ignore his last “parting shot” and simply walk to my car. I was thinking how every close call an umpire makes is going to please half the people and the other half are going to be let’s say, annoyed.

I have a thirty minute drive home and obviously my thoughts are about my game ending “out call.” I had very mixed feelings and have two thoughts going through my mind. One is that I got the call right and that’s every objective for an umpire so who cares what Coach Joe thinks. The other thought is that I’m slightly bothered because as an umpire, a good game is usually when you are not noticed at all. I want the game to be about the players and not the coaches or umpires. But in this case, I was very much in the limelight.

And then something occurred to me about Coach Joe. He broke a cardinal rule of the game…You NEVER make the third out of an inning at third base. So either he thought the runner was safe or possibly he was trying to get the “heat” off him and his poor decision and trying to blame me for HIS huge mistake.

I’ve had two days to digest this and I’m at peace with this situation. I truly believe that I got both those very close calls (bangers) right. And you know what, I too have growled at a few umpires in my many years of coaching. And Coach Joe did not “step over the line.” Like I said, for the most part I totally ignored him because his griping did not go on for very long or we would have had quite a conversation.

Hey, I might get to umpire Coach Joe’s game again in a couple of weeks. Would I look forward to it? My honest answer is, “No, I would not.” I have no idea if he holds a grudge or how long he holds one for.

I’ll tell you what I am certain of though. I would go into the game with an open mind and make every call to the absolute best of my ability. I could care less what uniform a player is wearing or if Coach Joe is their coach or not.

Hopefully, Coach Joe and I will do just fine when and if we meet again. I have a responsibility to the kids on the field to get the call right. My personal opinion is that the game should be about the players and NOT about coaches or umpires.

Larry Cicchiello is the successful author of several very user friendly eBooks and CD’s covering 320 topics on playing or coaching excellent baseball. ANY player, coach or parent who wants to help their child will be fully equipped! Check out some FREE baseball tips on hitting and FREE baseball pitching tips at LarryBaseball.com.