Archive for May, 2010

Throw at An Opposing Batter?….On the Coach’s order?

Here’s one for the books. A veteran HS baseball coach is suspended because he told his pitcher to deliberately throw at an opposing batter.

This took place a couple of weeks ago in upstate NY, and the coach, when he was investigated by his school, actually admitted to doing this. The reasons as to why he told the pitcher to plunk the batter are still unclear, but at least the pitcher – to his credit – refused to follow orders and stalked off the mound in the middle of the game.

Telling a HS athlete to deliberately try and hurt an opponent is, of course, way over the line. There’s just no way to try and even rationalize the coach’s actions who, by the way, also serves as the varsity football coach (you wonder if he ever instructed one of his football players to deliberately injure an opponent).

In any event, all that remains now is that what happens to this coach. The school hasn’t announced its decision yet, but from my vantage point, he should be fired from coaching baseball, and if he’s allowed to coach football again, I’d sure keep him under the microscope and watch him very, very carefully. (By the way, if you want to hear my WFAN show in its entirety, you can go to WFAN.com, click my name on the Personalities link, and you’ll find all my shows archived there).

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Doing the right thing: HS pole vaulter disqualified for sporting string bracelet

The case of Robin Laird from South Pasadena HS (CA) was both heartbreaking as well as provocative. As we discussed on the show, the girl thought she had won the track and field league championship for HS team when she won the pole vault event – only to see the opposing coach from Monrovia HS protest her participation because Robin was wearing a small string bracelet on her wrist that supported the World Wildlife Fund.

But the protest was upheld – the California Interscholastic Federation (and many other states) have strict anti-jewelry rules, and sure enough, Robin was disqualified, her pole vault didn’t count, and the championship went to Monrovia.

Lots and lots of calls on this case, e.g. the rules are very clear…her coach should have warned her before she competed…the girl herself should have known the rule, and so on. But no matter how one sliced and diced this case, the one item that bothered me the most was that the opposing coach waited for Robin to compete BEFORE he said he lodged a protest.

That is, shouldn’t he have said something to the girl before she vaulted? As Sports Edge contributor Doug Abrams wrote to me in an email, that would have been the right thing to do. And along those lines, if the CIF knew the coach had deliberately waited to say something AFTER she jumped, then he should have lost the right to file a protest.

To me, it’s a very hollow win for Monrovia HS. Sometimes, coach, you just gotta do the right thing.

Greater NY All-Stars v. USA All-Stars…HS Pitch Counts…Another aluminum bat death

This sounds like a great event for baseball players and fans alike. Lou Santos has pulled together an amazing event in which the best baseball players of NY (ages 18 and under) will have a chance to tryout (for free) in hope of being one of the lucky few to compete against the very best 18-and-under baseball players from across the country. For more details, go to Facebook and look up Greater New York Sandlot Athetic Alliance.

I know we coverd a lot of ground on yesterday’s show, but as noted, the death of a 13-year-old from upstate NY still haunts me. The youngster was pitching batting practice against some varsity players and was struck by a line-drive off an aluminum bat. He was in a hospital for a few days before succombing.

Amazingly, there was very little media coverage on this death, unlike the near-fatality in northern CA when a young player was drilled in the head. But as usual, the aluminum bat manufacturers immediately trotted out their defense: there’s only about a 5 mph difference between a ball off an aluminum versus wood bat….that the aluminum bat that was used with legal by NYS HS standards…and that very few kids get hurt playing baseball each year.

BUT HERE”S THE PROBLEM THEY NEVER SEEM TO ADDRESS: The Frazier kid from upstate NY is dead…Brandon Patch is dead….Gunnar Sandberg still has a hole in his skull from where the doctors worked on saving his life. Plus the lawsuits — and settlements — against the aluminum bat companies are beginning to pile up.

As I said on the show, if my kid were a pitcher in baseball or softball, I’d sure petition the league to use wood bats instead of aluminum.

PITCH COUNTS IN HS BALL. Probably not a bad idea, because it would protect promising pitchers from those coaches who either don’t know when a kid’s arm is getting tired (and hence more likely to get hurt) or those coaches who are so selfish that they’ll continue to pitch their ace hurler until his arm is ruined.

What the best coaches do….

Jeff Weiss was inducted this spring into the NYS Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame. Pretty impressive for a fellow who’s only in early 40’s. His list of accomplishments at tiny Lawrence Woodmere Academy in Woodmere, LI is staggering. Plenty of league championships, NYS championships, etc. Suffice it to say that he is considered of the best HS coaches in the country.

So, what does Jeff do that so many other coaches don’t?

As he said on my show this AM, among other things is that he and his staff review every practice session and question each other as to whether each kid benefitted from the practice, or whether the youngsters left frustrated. If the coaches get the sense that the kids were upset, Coach Weiss takes it upon himself to reach out proactively to the boy to see what their concern might be. That is, Jeff doesn’t wait until the kid comes to him; instead, he goes to the boy.

Same with parents in the stands. If Jeff thinks that a parent might be upset, Jeff doesn’t ignore or avoid the parent. Just the opposite: Coach Weiss picks up the phone and calls the parent right away.

A proactive coach? Hmm…maybe we’re onto something here.

Also, Coach Weiss carries anywhere from 13-15 kids on the team. He’s very sensitive to playing time issues, so much so that he will routinely take a kid from deep on the depth chart and have him start the second half of a key game. Makes no difference to the coach – he knows that boy worked just as hard in practice as the five starters.

Furthermore, Weiss says that even though that reserve might play 3-4 minutes in the second half of a close game, his presence on the court clearly improves the morale of the rest of the team and besides, the kid usually performs well.

I only wish I had more time to talk with Jeff Weiss, because it’s clearly no fluke why his teams win and win every year. Great coaches do indeed run their programs differently from all the other coaches.

Superstitions v. pre-game rituals: luck v. preparation

This -past Sunday’s show was great fun for me, as I always enjoy trading observations with other sports psychologists, and clearly Garrett Kramer had plenty to say about dealing with slumps and, at the other end, how athletes can find their way back to the “zone.”

I do want to make something clear. There’s a real distinction beween going through superstitious behavior as opposed to going through a set, pre-game ritual. Just making sure you’re wearing the same pair of lucky socks each game is more just a matter of superstition. On the other hand, finding and developing a comfortable pre-game ritual is more about trying to focus your body and mind on the upcoming game. Wade Boggs was known for always eating chicken each day as a pre-game meal. Some call that a superstition. To me, I call that part of his pre-game ritual. Boggs clearly knew that his body was comfortable in eating chicken as he prepared for a game.

All top athletes have their own pre-set rituals. And for young athletes, it’s a good idea to find what works for you. Some athletes listen to music before games; others play video games. Some just like to take naps before games. You have to find whatever works for you. Remember, taking care of the mental side of your preparation should be a key part of your athletic development.