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- It's How You Play the Game That Counts
By Danny Warrick
Submitted by Michael J. Bolander
Donald Jenson was struck in the head by a thrown bat while umpiring a Little League game in Terre Haute, Indiana. He continued to work the game, but later that evening was placed in a hospital by a doctor. While being kept overnight for observation, Jenson wrote the following letter:
Dear Parent of a Little Leaguer:
I am an umpire. I don't do it for a living, but on Saturdays and Sundays for fun. I've played the game, coached it and watched it. But somehow, nothing takes the place of umpiring - Maybe it's because I feel that deep down I'm providing a fair chance for all the kids to play the game without disagreements and arguments. With all the fun I've had, there is still something that bothers me about my job. . . . Some of you folks don't understand why I'm there. Some of you think I'm there to exert authority over your son or daughter. For that reason, you often yell at me when I make a mistake, or encourage your son or daughter to say things that hurt my feelings.
How many of you really understand that I try to be perfect? I try not to make a mistake. I don't want your child to feel that he got a bad deal from an umpire.
Yet no matter how hard I try, I can't be perfect. I counted the number of calls I made in a six-inning game today. The total number of decisions, whether on balls and strikes or safes and outs, was 146.
I tried my best to get them all fight, but I'm sure I missed some. When I figured out my percentage on paper, I could have missed eight calls today and still got about 95 percent of the calls right . . . . In most occupations that percentage would be considered excellent. If I were in school, that grade would receive an "A" for sure.
But your demands are higher than that. Let me tell you more about my game today.
There was one real close call that ended the game . . .a runner for the home team was trying to steal the plate on a passed ball. The catcher chased the ball down and threw to the pitcher covering the plate. The pitcher made the tag and I called the runner out.
As I was getting my equipment to leave, I overheard one of the parents' comments: "It's too bad the kids have to lose because of rotten umpire. That was one of the lousiest calls I've ever seen."
Later at the concession stand, a couple of kids were telling their friends, "Boy, the umpires were lousy today. They lost the game for us. "
The purpose of Little League is to teach baseball skills to young people. Obviously, a team that does not play well in a given game, yet is given the opportunity to blame that loss on an umpire for one call or two, is being given the chance to take all responsibility for the loss from its shoulders.
A parent or adult leader who permits the younger player to blame his or her failures on an umpire, regardless of the quality of that umpire, is doing the worst kind of injustice to that youngster. . . . Rather than learning responsibility, such an attitude is fostering an improper outlook toward the ideals of the game itself. The irresponsibility is bound to carry over to future years.
As I sit here writing this letter, I am no longer as upset us I was this afternoon. I wanted to quit umpiring. But fortunately, my wife reminded me of another situation that occurred lust week.
I was behind the plate, umpiring for a pitcher who pantomimed his displeasure at any call on a borderline pitch that was not in his team's favor. One could sense that he wanted the crowd to realize that he was a fine, talented player who was doing his best to get along, and that I was a black-hearted villain who was working against him.
The kid continued in this vein for two innings . . .while at the same time yelling at his own players who dared to make a mistake. For two innings, the manager watched this - When the kid returned to the dugout to bat in the top of the third, the manager called him aside.
In a loud enough voice that I was able to overhear, the lecture went like this: "Listen, Son, it's time you made a decision. You can be an umpire, or an actor, or a pitcher. But you can only be one at a time when you're playing for me. Right now it is your job to pitch, and you are basically doing a lousy job. Leave the acting to the actors, the umpiring to the umpires, or you won't do any pitching here. Now what is it going to be?"
Needless to say, the kid chose the pitching route and went on to win the game. When the game was over the kid followed me to my car. Fighting his hardest to keep back the tears, he apologized for his actions and thanked me for umpiring his game. He said he had learned a lesson that he would never forget.
I can't help but wonder. . . how many fine young men are missing their chance to develop into outstanding ballplayers because their parents encourage them to spend time umpiring, rather than working harder to play the game as it should be played.
The following morning,
Donald Jenson died of a brain concussion.
- When Parents Cross the Line
By Craig Smith
Seattle Times staff reporter
Trouble often follows for athletes and coaches when over-involved parents cross the line from encouragement to interference. Bruce Brown's message: Release your kids to the game.
KIRKLAND #151; When someone asks lecturer Bruce Brown where he got all his insight into issues of adolescent sports, he has a five-word answer:
"It's stuff kids told me."
And he listened carefully during a 30-plus-year career as a coach of boys and girls in a variety of sports.
Brown, 55, is athletic director at Northwest College in Kirkland and a national speaker for the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) and its "Champions of Character" program.
He speaks nationally on a variety of athletic topics, but in the Northwest, he most often is asked to speak on the touchy issue of parental roles in kids athletics.
"I'm not here to help psycho parents who jump out of the stands and attack umpires," he tells audiences. "I'm here for the normal parents who want to be part of good memories."
Brown's major message is that parents need to "release their kids to the game" and get out of the way once any safety concerns are satisfied.
"Athletics is one of the best places for young people to take risks and fail," Brown said.
Brown did most of his coaching in the Bellevue and Lake Washington school districts and has a special fondness for junior-high kids. At Inglewood, Hyak and other junior highs where he taught and coached, he would spend his lunch hour sitting in gyms munching on sandwiches and supervising pickup games for players of all abilities.
Jerry Parrish, longtime football coach and athletic director at North Kitsap, is one of many Brown believers throughout the state.
"Bruce is great at hitting the nail on the head," Parrish said. "With all his experience, he's walked the talk."
After every sports season, he asked players to talk about what they had liked most and least. Over the years, he kept hearing more and more stories of parental over-involvement.
Brown said "red flags" that a parent is too involved are:
1) Parents who share the credit for their child's accomplishments; 2) Parents who continue to coach after the athlete knows more about the sport than the parent; 3) An athlete who avoids a parent after a game; 4) When the game's outcome means more to a parent than to the athlete; 5) Parents who try to solve problems best left to the team and players.
Brown encourages parents to ask their sons or daughters these questions before a season starts: 1) Why are you playing? 2) What is a successful season? 3) What goals do you have? 4) What do you think your role will be on the team?
He encourages parents to ask themselves the same questions, plus this one: "What do you as a parent hope they gain from the experience?"
"If your answers are different from theirs, you need to drop yours and accept theirs," he said.
For example, if an athlete is playing basketball because she likes the sport and enjoys being part of the team, trouble is inevitable if the parents' chief objective is to win a college scholarship.
One of Brown's bedrock messages is that parents must realize that athletes need "time and space" after a game.
"And the more emotional the game was, the more time and space they need," he said.
He said youngsters told him they dreaded "the ride home" after a game because a parent, usually the father, would critique the game and their performance.
Brown said he found one high-school boy in the team locker room nearly two hours after a basketball game had ended.
"I never go home until my father goes to sleep," the boy said.
Brown said he hates to hear a kid say, "I don't want my parents at the game" because the youngster "really wants them there in the worst way" but has concerns about behavior during or after the game.
The coach-parent relationship can be a delicate one, and Brown said there are "appropriate" and "inappropriate" subjects for parents to discuss with coaches.
Appropriate ones are mental and physical treatment of the child, ways to help the child improve and any concerns about the athlete's behavior.
The inappropriate subjects are playing time, strategy and other team members.
As a coach, Brown said he had one commandment for his players: "Don't let your teammates down."
That meant everything from don't loaf at practice to don't do dumb things off the field that could get you suspended.
Brown is quick to remind everyone — players, parents and athletes — that the only guarantee in a sport season is that "it won't be perfect."
"Even if there aren't problems among player, parents and coach, there are going to be problems with relationships on the team, problems with playing time and problems with individual and team success," he said.
Brown said one of his favorite appearances was a preseason meeting with parents and players on a highly touted, senior-laden high-school girls basketball team with high expectations.
He immediately sensed problems brewing concerning playing time and expectations. The girls seemed to be greeting the season with anxiety not enthusiasm.
Brown reminded everyone in the room that the season was supposed to be fun and an adventure for the girls. He told the parents they may not be grasping how much pressure they were putting on the girls.
"When I was done, the senior girls all gave me a group hug," he said.
Brown has coached football, basketball, baseball and volleyball. His fourth book, "101 Drills for Youth Basketball Coaches," just came out, and he has produced seven instructional coaching videos, five of them about basketball. He has coached boys and girls and has five daughters.
Brown maintains that four factors lead kids away from a sport: Continuous losing, negative coaching, outside pressures or sports being made too complicated.
Brown often is asked whether athletes have changed much during his career. His answer: "very little, but the parents have changed dramatically."
Reasons: Scholarship-mania, parental investment of sometimes thousands of dollars for sports tutors and select teams, poor role models in pro sports and the quest for media coverage.
"The number of parents who cross the line of support and encouragement to interference has increased," he said.
Brown said some parents are getting the message. He said fathers have come up to him after his presentation and declared, "I blew it with my first two kids. I'm going to get it right this time with No. 3."
Youth Baseball in General
- Outliers and Outfielders, by Rudy Klancnik for Fort Worth Child
By: Rudy Klancnik
Fort Worth Child, 2/27/2009, http://www.fortworthchild.com/showarticle.asp?artid=550
Practice makes perfect - or does it? Serious youth athletes spend countless hours honing their skills on the field, while their parents juggle their lives to find the time to shuttle their kids to practices and tournaments. It all seemingly comes down to just that: in a word, time.
But what if one of the main factors of athletic success for your child is hinged on one time factor that parents have little control over: the time your child is born. Best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell suggests that a young athlete's birthdate can mean the difference between a brilliant youth sports career and one spent in the shadows.
In his 2008 book, Outliers: The Story of Success, Gladwell questions why some people succeed - and he points to a child's birthdate as an advantage, particularly for future athletes. Citing the roster of a Canadian junior hockey team (considered to be the most competitive grouping of teenage hockey talent in the galaxy), Gladwell notes that 17 of the 25 players were born in one of four months - January, February, March or April. Why is that important? Because, asserts Gladwell, it shows that these phenoms aren't phenoms just because they splashed around in some superhuman gene pool. Instead, it suggests that because their birthdate just so happened to come right after hockey league registration, these players got up to an 11-month head start on other teammates and opponents.
Does this sound familiar? Starting around the age of 10, kids who have this head start prove to be the best and brightest in their field of play thanks to their advanced physical maturity. Parents and coaches take note. Then it begins ... these players are encouraged to play in select leagues (or All-Stars or club or whatever the best league is called in your area). Here, they receive the best coaching, the best equipment, the best tournaments against the best competition and the most practice time. Is it any coincidence that by the time they're in their late teens (the age they are scouted by collegiate coaches), these kids have an upper hand? Sure, they had to be skilled young players to advance this far, but the luck of a birthday truly set them up for later success.
Texas Christian University Division I women's soccer head coach Dan Abdalla, like every collegiate soccer coach in the nation, understands how important club soccer is to recruiting. "We certainly visit high school soccer teams to check out a particular recruit, but at a good club tournament, we can look at a dozen kids in a couple of days. Club soccer, especially in the North Texas area, is a fantastic and very serious business."
The birthdate advantage is something Abdalla takes seriously. "Do I think some parents hold their kids back to gain an athletic advantage down the road? Absolutely," he says. "I've actually never looked at our roster to draw any conclusions about the line between birthdates and performance, but I'd imagine every collegiate team has its share of kids who dominated their club teams at early ages because of their early physical superiority."
Many parents in the Fort Worth area have already committed to memory registration dates and how their young future star fits into that picture. Some of the more skeptical among us believe that every parent of a select athlete plans out some diabolical scheme when their kids are still in diapers to manipulate the system perfectly so their bundles of joy someday can win a Heisman. However, like many aspects of select sports, fact and fiction have a way of getting confused.
Should they stay or should they go? Many parents grapple with this question when it comes to athletics and academics. A 4-year-old with a June birthday could spend a year in pre-kindergarten and then be nearly a year older than many of his classmates in kindergarten. If you assume Gladwell's theory and fast forward 10 years, this same child would have a better-than-average shot at excelling in the classroom and on the athletic fields. For parents, it's no easy decision.
"[Our son's] birthday allowed us to hold him back a year," says Lisa Paltry, mom of a 12-year-old shortstop for a select baseball team in Southlake. "He's always been more physically mature than most of the kids on his team. You can see the difference it's made for his overall confidence and performance."
Many parents, though, like Bob Sanders, contend that holding athletes back isn't necessarily the best plan of action. "You know what, I could have held him back a year and he would have dominated his league, but I decided to let him play with the bigger kids, and he's done just fine," says Sanders, the parent of an 11-year-old second baseman for a select baseball league in Aledo.
Pepper Hastings, a vice president with the Flower Mound Youth Sports Association and the head of Flower Mound's nationally respected select baseball organization, says, "You have to save a lot of folks from themselves. We can save coaches from practicing too often by closing the fields certain times of the year. Every 9-year-old kid doesn't need a private pitching and hitting coach. What they really need is for their parent to spend 15 minutes a night playing catch with them."
TCU's Abdalla has produced a quality program in a short period of time in Fort Worth, highlighted by notching a school record for wins last season. But with only a handful of student-athletes on full scholarships, he knows the mounds of cash being paid for private instruction and tournament fees aren't typically rewarded - financially, anyway.
"Parents in this area are so passionate about their kids, so invested in so many ways in their success," Abdalla says. "But if they're going into it assuming that a full scholarship is coming their way at the end, they're mistaken about 99 percent of the time."
"There are pervasive myths about select baseball," Hastings says. "Myth No. 1 is that your investment in private lessons will get paid back with a full ride to college or a Major League contract. Of course, 99.9 percent of the time, that's not going to happen. Myth No. 2 is that you're going to win a national championship. There aren't any national championships. There are plenty of really good tournaments, but there's not a national title trophy out there to claim."
Regardless of what Outliers says about how select athletes often become successful, any story about select sports begins and ends with the parents. Whether they're heroes or villains, parents write the story.
Hastings adds, "We're here to prepare kids for the next level. You want to prepare each age group to take the next step. It's not about winning, although that's hard for many folks to hear. It's about getting them ready for what's next."
- Leagues Can Be Trouble, by Tom Kuyper for the AZ Republic
Question: My son is entering fourth grade and he plays basketball. He has played in recreational leagues, but should I be getting him involved a more competitive league? do these leagues actually help with fundamentals or is it just unnecessary expense? -Needing your advice in Gilbert
Answer: Club teams, traveling teams, competitive teams are all terms that spell out, "Be careful." This is a trap that too many kids fall into. Although it is flattering to a parent to think that your child was chosen to play on an elite team, and it is affirming to know that you have a child who is a gifted athlete, there are too many down sides to specializing at such an early age.
The realization that many young athletes get hit with in high school (after being cut from the freshman team) is that they had put all their eggs in one basket.
One of two things happens:
- They get burnt out and that once vibrant desire to work hard and practice a lot fades away. The drive is gone.
- Because they didn't play other sports and develop a broad variety of skills, their sports career comes to an early end. They find out that dominating in a sport in the third grade because of early maturation, and depending on athleticism rather that the proper mechanics, doesn't work in high school anymore. The early bloomer has learned to depend on his athleticism, which thwarts skill development and proper mechanics, and it is now difficult to try a new sport.
If the urge to join one of these competitive teams still seems to be best for your child, let me give you some questions that can be used as guidelines that could make this adventure a fun and beneficial one:
- Can you enter on a month-to-month obligation only? This is a good indication that the organization understands the benefit of multisport development for a young child, rather than the commitment being to their club team winning the stat championship. (This is a rare find, by the way.)
- Is the coach more interested in winning or the development of fundamentals? Some coaches would rather have a tall kid stand and shoot with poor mechanics because of early success than to work on changing the shot to proper form, even if it means making fewer baskets at the beginning of the learning process.
- Is the time commitment so great that the family time is compromised, and involvement in other activities like other sports or school functions is no longer possible? There should not be a "playing time" penalty because of an occasional missed practice when the absence was because of family or school priorities.
- Is playing time distributed? Don't expect playing time to be equally distributed, but there should be a fair amount given to each player to encourage success in all teammates.
- Is the financial obligation so high that is causes other family activities and priorities to be compromised? Is the money refundable?
- Do you know the coach or have you talked to other families about their experience?
Club sports can be a beneficial and worthwhile experience. I am a fan of club sports when these guidelines are met. the key is to ensure multiple sport involvement and never compromise fun!
Written by Tom Kuyper for the AZ Republic
Submitted by: Jack Chalupka