Archive for December, 2012

COACHING TIPS: The Seven Habits of Highly Successful Sports Parents

(This is adapted from WFAN’s Sports Edge, originally broadcast on December 30, 2012)

 

On today’s show, I thought I’d offer something of a clinic on sports parenting…as you know, we tend to discuss issues and topics that are ripped from the headlines, but every so often, I like to go in a different direction…and offer some suggestions and insights on how you can become the very best sports parent you can be.

 

And to that end, I’ve come up with a list of seven patterns of behavior that you might find helpful with your youngster who is involved in sports….I’m going to call these Seven items – with full apologies to the late Steven Covey – the Seven Habits of Highly Effective Sports Parents…

 

Number One: Let your child lead you….

 

In terms of what sport or sports your child wants to play…bear in mind that it may be a sport that you have little personal background in, have little expertise in, and have little interest in…BUT that’s not the point.

 

It’s supposed to be about YOUR youngster, and if they are attracted to certain sports that you didn’t play or don’t follow, well, that’s okay. It just means you have to spend a little time learning about those sports.

 

NOW…that doesn’t mean you can’t encourage your child to explore other sports. And indeed you should, When they are just starting out in athletics, you want to expose them to a variety of sports, whether it be soccer, swimming, gymnastics, tennis, etc.

 

Example: my wife and I have three kids, and when they were growing up, they were immediately attracted to such sports as soccer, ice hockey, lax, and swimming.

 

When I was a kid, I played football, baseball, and basketball…I knew about ice hockey, but I never learned how to skate, and thus never played. Soccer didn’t exist in my town, nor did swimming or lax.

 

So when my kids wanted to play soccer, I found myself going to the local library to learn about the rules and traditions of the game. Tried to learn about and figure out the offside rule. Learned about different offensive formations in soccer.

 

When I went to watch my older daughter play HS lax, one day I was standing off to the side of the field when a ref came over and told me I had to move. I thought I was far from the action and behind the sidelines, but she told me that I had to move because there were no sidelines in girls’ lax.

 

I guess I had never read about that rule. But I should have.

 

You get the idea. If you want to be supportive and encouraging of your child in whatever sport they play, be proactive and take the time to learn the sport with them.

 

Habit #2: Be Encouraging…know how to pick your spots with your child

 

All kids love praise. These days….they want it, expect it, and at times, they get angry if they don’t get it.

 

As the proud sports parent, you need to praise and support your child at all times. However, the key to effective and meaningful sports praise is to be very specific….

 

Don’t just give them a generic “Great game!” or “Nice job!”…that’s meaningless.

 

You want to prove to your youngster that not only were you paying close attention at their game, but that you were especially impressed with a particular play. So, tell them: “You know that deke move you made at the end of the first period? That was something special.” Or…”I was especially impressed with that amazing pass you made on that fast break late in the game.”

 

Kids LOVE that kind of detail…and often, once you start the conversation on that tone, they will immediately start to discuss the event in detail with you. That’s a win-win.

 

Habit #3: Don’t Be Afraid of Adversity for Your Child…

 

Every top athlete who I have ever worked with has encountered adversity at some point in their career…I just don’t mean they lost a big game. I mean they were cut from a team..or a coach didn’t think they were very good…or they were injured and had to sit out for a long time…

 

You talk to any pro athlete, and I guarantee you that they will all have their own stories of failures, setbacks – in short, adversity. Nobody gets through a successful athletic career without experiencing setbacks.

 

But what the top athletes do that most of the others DON’T do is that they persevere…that is, they just don’t give up. They feel sorry for themselves for a day or two, but then they resolve themselves to work harder, to get better, to improve…

 

That’s how adversity can be used to make youngster into a better and stronger athlete.

 

Parents need to understand this. It’s a delicate conversation with your child… BUT you have to be careful not to transform yourself into the ultimate helicopter parent who intervenes with the coach and complains.

 

In the long run, that doesn’t help your child. Better yet, what a wonderful feeling to see your youngster working at their game, practicing on their own, motivated by their own sense of drive and purpose.

 

If there’s one major takeway from sports, it’s probably this…how to teach your child how to rely upon oneself to deal with setbacks and adversity. Yes, it’s painful – no one wants to see their kid fail. But in the grand scheme of life, it’s also a vital lesson.

 

 

Habit # 4: Learn how to communicate WELL with your athlete

 

This means that as your child grows and gets a little older, you will begin to sense that he or she has their own unique way of both getting ready for a game, and also a distinct style as to how they relax after a game.

 

What I mean is that many sports parents – knowing full well that their youngster has a big game today – will take it upon themselves to give their young athlete a kind of pre-game pep talk. “Make sure you hustle back on defense”….”don’t waste any open shots”…”these opponents today are good….you need to bring  your A game.”

 

Stuff like this basically is a way for an eager sports parent to blow off their own pre-game anxiety. But instead of helping the child, it only makes them more nervous.

 

So what do you do? Say very little. Let your child talk. If they have questions, let them ask you. Again, let them lead the way.

 

Think back – when you were a kid playing sports, did your Dad give you pre-game pep talks? Probably not.

 

On the way home, avoid the PGA…the Post Game Analysis. Don’t make this common mistake. Let the kid bask in the afterglow of the competition. There’s no need for you to give them a break-down of the game.

 

 

Habit # 5: Utilize the Praise Sandwich

 

Parents ask: so, if I can’t do a PGA, how do I get my constructive criticism to my kid? The Praise Sandwich is the best way…

 

You’ve heard me describe this before…but trust me, it works…

 

During a quiet moment in the evening…let’s say your kid plays basketball and has become something of a ball hog…that is, they don’t pass and they likes to shoot.

 

First, a thin slice of praise:

 

It’s remarkable how good you’ve become at shooting the ball…that’s a great step forward.

 

Then, a bit of constructive criticism…

 

But as you score more and more, teams are going to start to double-team you….and if you can learn how to dish the ball off to open teammates…

 

And now the final bit of praise…you’ll become pretty much a complete force…now only can you shoot but you can also pass.

 

That’s all you have to say…don’t lean on it…give them a few days for the words to sink in…and then see what happens.

 

 

Habit # 6: Use a Third-Party Influencer When Needed

 

Sometimes, a parent will tell me that their youngster really won’t listen anymore to them – that the kid disregards the positive feedback that’s being given to them by the parent.

 

When that happens, I occasionally ask the Mom or Dad if there’s a third party who can be approached. For example, is there a friend of the family, or perhaps an older HS student, or even a neighbor who – very much on the sly – can be approached to act as an intermediary?

 

By that, I mean the athlete’s parent goes up to the third party, and explains to him that the youngster needs to hear some positive feedback. In short, it’s much more meaningful when the high praise comes from a third party outsider as opposed to Mom and Dad.

 

Again, you have to be careful about this approach…but trust me, when a young athlete is told by an outsider that he or she is really making tremendous progress, or is really developing into a terrific athlete, that kind of praise can really serve as a rocket fuel to a kid’s confidence.

 

 

Habit # 7: What’s the Overall Takeaway?

 

Is it all about just getting a college scholarship? Or turning pro?

 

I hope not…if it is, then you’ll be missing out on those joyous moments in your child’s sports career…moments that can, and should be, shared by the family.

 

But if you focus solely on the long-range goal of a college scholarship, then these magical moments will go by relatively unnoticed – as though they are merely expected – rather than to be celebrated.

 

There’s nothing wrong with when your son or daughter have a big game than to let them know that they are to be proud of all of the hard work and effort they put into mastering their skills…that these kinds of accomplishments are to be reflected upon, and cherished by them.

 

As parents and as adults, we know that there’s only a limited number of years that a youngster can learn, grow, and develop in sports, and when they have that big game – they score a winning goal…or they tackle the opposing ball carrier on a crucial goal-line stand…or they make the perfect pass….it’s important for them to keep that memory burnished in their mind’s eye for a good long time.

 

And as their parent, you need  – -actually want – to take a moment or two to let them know how wonderful that feeling is.

 

Sports are about feeling good about oneself…about living in the moment…and about sharing those special moments with teammates, coaches, and of course, one’s family.

 

That’s what we should be striving for as successful sports parents.

 

 

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PUBLICIZING YOUR TEAM: How to Get the Word Out to the Media

 

 

Writing About Youth Sports in Newspaper Letters-to-the-Editor (Part I)

 

                                                By Doug Abrams

 

Broadcast journalist David Brinkley once said that “everybody is entitled to my opinion.”  As a prominent journalist for decades, he had greater opportunity than most other Americans to make his opinions widely known to anyone willing to read or listen to his commentary.  

Did you ever want to reach hundreds or thousands of people with your opinions about a disturbing youth sports event, such as an act of parental violence?  Or did you ever want to praise an athlete, parent or coach for setting the right example?  If you have ever reacted to a news story by thinking that “Somebody should say something,” this two-part column discusses how you can be that “somebody.”

People with something to say often overlook readily accessible public forums – newspaper editorial pages, which publish letters-to-the-editor nearly every day.  Publication is free, and you don’t have to be a journalist or professional writer to make your voice heard. When a newspaper publishes a letter-to-the-editor, the writer reaches many more people than someone with a microphone in a packed meeting hall could ever hope to reach.

This two-part column describes how parents, coaches and even youth leaguers themselves can write and submit letters-to-the-editor.  (Yes, even youth leaguers.  Newspapers frequently publish well written letters from kids, either in the general letters column or in a column reserved for teen writers.  The paper usually recites the writer’s age next to the writer’s name at the bottom, and published letters can be a big plus on a youth leaguer’s college application later on.)

Part I here concerns initial preparations for writing the letter, and next week’s column will discuss how to polish and submit it.  As a sample, next week’s column will end with a letter that I published in the Kansas City Star last year.

 

Initial Preparations

1. Availability.  The first step toward publication is to consult the newspaper’s website and carefully read its instructions for writing and submitting letters-to-the-editor. Smaller daily papers and weekly papers are the best bets because they publish many or most well written letters that they receive. Competition for space can be fiercer in larger papers. The New York Times, for example,receives roughly 1,200 letters each week.  The St. Louis Post-Dispatch receives hundreds each week, with space to publish only about sixty.

Letters-to-the-editor generally respond to an editorial, article or letter that the newspaper recently covered or that was reported elsewhere.  Sometimes letters call attention to other matters that the writer considers important.  Many papers do not publish anonymous letters, ones signed only with initials or pseudonyms, or ones with multiple signatories. To encourage wide participation, some papers limit writers to one letter, say, every 30 or 60 days. Newspapers generally set the maximum length at about 200 words.

2. Respect the news cycle. “There is nothing older than yesterday’s news.” In today’s Internet/cable television age marked by non-stop around-the-clock-coverage, newspapers understand that readers have short attention spans. The New York Times advises that letters-to-the-editor about an especially timely topic “often appear within a day or two (and almost always within a week).”  Even if a newspaper waits longer for publication, it will likely give greatest consideration to letters submitted quickly.

Where the paper’s instructions permit, email the letter, either in a main text message (without attachments) to the address on the paper’s website, or by completing the website’s form. Faxing is also quick, though it requires retyping at the receiving end.  Letters sent by ordinary mail may be stale before the paper’s editorial staff ever sees them. Do not overwhelm the editorial staff by submitting the letter by more than one of these three methods.

3. When possible, anticipate.  This column’s older readers may remember Carly Simon’s 1971 hit song, “Anticipation,” which opens with “We can never know about the days to come / But we think about them anyway.”

If the letter writer plans to comment on the sort of incident whose future occurrence is predictable (such as acts of parental violence in a youth league game), the writer may indeed anticipate “the days to come” by drafting much of the letter in advance.  When the predictable incident hits the news, have the draft ready for submission to the target paper.  Quickly fill in the details about the incident, and dispatch the polished submission quickly to meet the swift news cycle.

4. Local, regional or national? The Internet now enables people to read newspapers published anywhere in the country, and indeed anywhere in the world. Many local and regional papers still consider letters only from readers within their market area, but other papers publish quality letters regardless of where the writer sits.  If you are unsure about papers outside the local area, send the letter anyway.  It does not take much effort to hit the “send” button, and the worst the paper can say is “no.”

Writers probably know the names of their own daily and weekly newspapers, and websites can provide the names and addresses of papers elsewhere. For links to national and state papers, just Google “national newspapers.” As of this writing, a convenient site with links to the nation’s leading papers is 100 Top US Newspapers By Circulation: http://www.thepaperboy.com/usa-top-100-newspapers.cfm.

5. Multiple submissions or exclusivity? Writing a letter-to-the-editor is a lot like going fishing. The manuscript is the bait, and the writer wants to catch at least one fish. But how wide should the net be cast?

On their websites, many newspapers insist on exclusive rights to letters within their immediate market area. The market area may mean a radius of a hundred miles or so, which may contain few competing papers anyway. For larger papers, the market area may cross state lines.

For some leading national newspapers (such as the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and the Wall Street Journal), the market area may be national.  If you submit the letter to one of these papers, you may not submit it elsewhere until the paper rejects it.

Because these leading national newspapers rarely cover youth sports on their editorial pages, I would suggest targeting one or more papers that either do not require exclusivity at all, or that require exclusivity only within their immediate market area.  If you gamble on exclusive submission to the New York Times and lose after the editor holds your letter for ten days or so, the news cycle has passed you by. Your belated submission probably will not get serious consideration from any other paper.     

Writers who heed exclusivity requirements should say so above the letter-to-the-editor. Editorial staffs assume that writers have read their website, and thus that silence about exclusivity means multiple submissions. Facing tight daily deadlines, the staff member may find rejection easier than calling to ask. 

If the writer submits a letter to only one paper that does not require exclusivity, mention exclusivity anyway. The editors may appreciate the desire to appear in their paper, and appreciation might help tilt the scales in favor of publication. 

Next week:  Writing About Youth Sports in Newspaper Letters-to-the-Editor (Part II).

[Sources: Douglas E. Abrams, Trading In the Marketplace of Ideas: Letters-to-the Editor and Op-Ed Articles – Parts I and II, Precedent (The Missouri Bar’s quarterly magazine) (Fall 2008 and Winter 2009)]

TRAVEL TEAMS: The Bridgewater (NJ) United Success Story

One of the rewarding aspects of writing this blog about sports parenting is that I hear from individuals from all over who share many of the same concerns that I do regarding our kids playing sports.

And in my recent postings and radio shows about travel teams, one of the more intriguing emails I received was from Don Staffin, who, as the father of four female athletes, was wary of some of the practices that the hometown soccer travel program offered in Bridgewater, NJ.

So back in 2007, Don — along with a number of other parents in town – decided to reinvent travel soccer in their community. They put their heads together, and came up with a new system that eliminated kids being cut from teams, made the annual fees much more reasonable, made sure that the coaches were well trained, and in effect, made the entire travel team process much more transparent.

Remember, there was already a pre-existing travel soccer program up and running for a number of years in Bridgewater, so Don and his colleagues had no idea what kind of response they would have with their new set-up.

And in that first year, they had only enough players to field a few teams. But then, as the word got out about what they were doing, the following season, the number of Bridgewater United soccer teams doubled. And then the following year, the number doubled again!

In short, Don’s idea was catching on like wild fire. Sports parents who had kids who played soccer in that town embraced Bridgewater United, and did so for all the right reasons. Above all, the liked the fact that United was accountable for all the kids, and that the coaches (and parents) who helped out understood the value of being open and transparent.

Now, in 2012, Bridgewater United stands as a real success story as to the power of sports parents getting together to re-invent a travel program in their town. It takes an intelligent approach, a lot of initial work, and quite frankly, a certain amount of courage to stand one’s ground. But Don Staffin and his friends made it work.

What’s the takeaway? Simple. If you feel there’s a better way to run a travel program in your town, well, there probably is. It just needs someone to help lead the way…and that someone could be you.

 

COACHING TIPS: Thinking Ahead When One of Your Players Has a Disability

 

Alerting Officials When One of Your Youth Leaguers Has a Disability:

Game-Time Advice for Parents and Coaches

By Doug Abrams

 

On October 7, the Ware Youth U-15 soccer team was locked in a 1-1 tie against the Bengeo Tigers in Hertfordshire, north of London. When the Tigers scored to take the lead late in the game, Ware’s 14-year-old goalkeeper, Owen Thompson, disputed the call, told the referee to “f— off,” and refused to shake the official’s hand after his team lost, 2-1.  The league suspended Owen for two games and fined him 25 pounds (about $40) for his abusive language.

The story, however, does not end there.

Owen was diagnosed last year with Tourette syndrome, a neurological disorder characterized by repetitive, stereotyped, involuntary movements and vocalizations (“tics”). According to the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH), “[p]erhaps the most dramatic and disabling tics include . . . uttering socially inappropriate words such as swearing.”  The Mayo Clinic calls these tics “unwanted sounds that can’t be controlled.”

The NIH explains that Tourette “[t]ics are often worse with excitement or anxiety and better during calm, focused activities.”  Indeed, Owen told the Daily Mirror that soccer “suppresses my tics, but I cannot control them when I get upset or stressed.

After the swearing incident, Owen’s mother and manager showed the referee a medical card attesting to her son’s condition, but the referee reported the incident to the league anyway.  When Owen appealed the initial sanctions, the league declined to reverse itself completely but reduced his suspension from two games to one, and reduced the fine from 25 pounds to 15 pounds (about $ 24).

The Value of Inclusion

To the maximum extent possible, leagues and teams should permit children with disabilities to participate in sports with other children if their parents approve, their abilities permit, and participation does not change the character of the game or compromise other players’ safety.  Worthwhile programs, such as Little League’s Challenger Division, serve children whose conditions make integrated play inadvisable or impossible. 

When a player with disabilities joins a youth league team with non-disabled youngsters, the player’s parents and coaches need to consider being proactive rather than merely reactive. Owen Thompson’s mother and coach reportedly advised the league and the referees of his newly diagnosed condition, but they evidently waited until after the game, once the swearing incident had already occurred.  By then it was too late. 

Some disabilities are readily apparent and others are not.  Reading about Owen’s case led me to recall a midget youth hockey game I coached on Long Island in the mid-1980s.  Our NassauCounty team faced off against a Pennsylvania team that we had not seen before.  A few minutes before the game, the opposing coach approached the Nassau coaches and the referees to say that one of his players was deaf.  He told us that the player might throw a late hit because he would not hear the whistle and he depended on his teammates to stop him. 

The Nassau coaches returned to the locker room and told our players to be understanding. The Pennsylvania player did indeed throw a few late hits, but the game proceeded without incident because everyone understood the circumstances in advance.

A “Really Good Kid”

Children and adults alike often remain sensitive about their disabilities, which they may try to compensate for or hide.  When a disability affects performance but does not exclude a player from participation, decisions about whether to disclose the player’s disability rest first with the player and parents.  Provided that these decisionmakers inform the coach about the condition, the parents and coach must jointly determine whether make disclosure to the opposing coach and the referees if the disability might affect the way the game is played.

I have coached a few players with disabilities, who always received support from their teammates, the other parents, and opposing coaches.  With the consent of the players’ parents, I would often share relevant information confidentially with the league before the season, or with referees before games.  The league and referees remained cooperative, and none ever broke the confidence. Opposing coaches were also discreet.  Shared information helped make the players’ participation possible and meaningful. 

The alternative may be to wait until a predictable incident happens, and then face the much more difficult task of trying to “unring the bell.”  According to his team’s manager, Ware goalkeeper Owen Thompson is a “really good kid” who has never been penalized or ejected from a game, and who maintains top grades in school.  Owen might have been much better off if adults in charge of the game had informally shared information about his condition beforehand rather wait for attention in the national media.

[Sources: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, National Institutes of Health, Tourette Syndrome Fact Sheet; http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/tourette/detail_tourette.htm#220453231; Mayo Clinic, Tourette Syndrome, http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/tourette-syndrome/DS00541; For *@*!* Sake, Ref! Young Footballer With Tourette’s is Banned for Swearing at Referee, London Daily Mirror, Nov. 16, 2012, http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/owen-thompson-young-footballer-with-tourettes-1438528]

DANGERS OF CONCUSSIONS: Will Rising Insurance Premiums Spell the End of Contact Sports?

Ken Belson of the New York Times was my guest on WFAN this past Sunday, and he focused on another aspect of concussions that hasn’t been discussed much –specifically, that more and more insurance carriers are now deciding how much to raise their premium rates to insure young athletes who may end up with a concussion or – even worse – whether the insurers just want to stop offering this kind of coverage.

Belson, who specializes in covering the business of sports, made it clear that this is a very real concern that youth leagues and HS administrators are just becoming aware of. Because of the growing worry aboout the long-term medical worries regarding concussions from tackle football, ice hockey, lacrosse, and soccer, insurers are now re-thinking whether they want to cover these potential accidents.

More so, there’s the added worry that HS coaches and athletic directors might find themselves embroiled in lawsuits brought by angry parents whose kids are injured and find that they aren’t covered.

I asked Ken just how much of a potential threat this was, and he said that in his research, he’s finding that it may not be too long where school districts simply say to athletes, “Look, if you want to play a contact sport, you need to sign a waiver that holds us non-liable in case you get a concussion.”

That may sound a bit far-fetched, but Belson isn’t so sure. We already know that more than 4,000 former NFL players are suing the league for billions of dollars in damages from concussions. If the football players win their suit — and personally I think they will — it won’t be difficult for insurance companies to decide to back away from insuring young athletes as well.

All in all, this issue is just another potential setback for the world of youth sports. Remember, concussions are going to  happen in sports. No matter what kind of helmet your kid wears, concussions can be somewhat minimized, but as of this writing, they can’t be prevented. What a mess.

 

TRAVEL TEAMS: The Time Has Come for Some Real Reform

As I opened today’s radio show on WFAN, I asked the question that, quite honestly, has troubled me for some time. In short, there’s no question that travel teams have spread all over the country in the last 25 years like wild fire, but in truth, these programs are unregulated, for the most part the coaches are uncertified or licensed, there’s all sorts of concerns about issues regarding costs, try outs, playing time, coaching styles, and on and on.

So my question: is there no better way for the United States to run travel sports programs?

Let’s face it. Our country has now reached the point where we rely on travel teams to produce our premier athletes. That’s great. But it seems to me that in order to produce a few polished gems, there are thousands – and probably millions – of other promising athletes who end up disillusioned, upset, and angry by their own experiences with travel teams.

As the world’s most successful and wealthiest nation, is there no other way for us to train our athletes?

Consider: the US Soccer Federation now forces HS soccer players to choose between their program and their HS varsity team. Why?

Any parent can put out a shingle and announce to the local community that he or she is starting a travel team. That parent controls the tryouts, the costs, decides who makes the team, who plays in the game, and so forth. Why do we allow this?

Too many travel team coaches talk about equal playing time at the beginning of the season, but as the season wears on, they tend to playing the more gifted athletes on the team in the hopes that the team can make the playoffs. What happened to the emphasis on developing skills in ALL of the players?

Too many travel teams are aimed at kids 10 and under. Why do we even allow travel teams for kids before they’re in middle school?

Hasn’t the time finally come to inject some sanity and start to eliminate some of this madness? Ever see a 10-year-old kid not make the cut for a travel team? The trauma is palpable, and clearly they don’t want to try out again the following year. End of athletic career. A wash-out at age 10.

Is that the right message to send a kid who’s still a few years from adolescence? Why do we allow this? Suppose the reason why the kid didn’t make the team was because the Dad who started the travel team has his own kid on the team, and he plays the same position of the kid who got cut? Is that fair?

This is just the tip of the iceberg. Again, travel teams aren’t going away, but it does seem to me that we need to finally set up some real guidelines to protect our kids.

TRAVEL TEAMS: Learning from One of the Best

Dan Gray was a high-draft choice out of Binghamton University as a catcher and Dan spent more than six years playing in the Dodgers’ organization. Although he never reached the big leagues, Dan did benefit greatly from all those years learning the “Dodgers way” of playing and coaching baseball.

These days, as the founder and owner of Pro Swing Baseball and Softball in Mt Kisco and Port Chester, NY, Dan is recognized in the NY-NJ-CT area as one of the top coaches around…plus he’s also recognized as one of the premier travel team coaches in the country.

I asked Dan what were the keys to successfully coaching travel teams, and Dan offered these suggestions, which certainly apply to baseball but can also be applied to a variety of competitive travel team sports:

COMMUNICATE:  It’s absolutely incumbent on  you, the coach, to reach out and communicate with each kid on your team at every practice and every game. Every kid needs to know that you’re rooting for them to work hard and to reach their full potential. Too many travel team coaches try to isolate themselves from the kids, or speak only sparingly to them That’s a real mistake. You need to get to know each player well.

WITH PARENTS, BE HONEST: Dan holds a parents’ meeting before each season to go over his philosophy and approach with the kids. He makes it clear that he will be candid and honest with each youngster, and will be specific on what he’s doing well, and on what part of his game needs work. And then he does exactly that throughout the season, so that there’s never any misunderstanding.

WHAT ABOUT COMPASSION? Especially in baseball, where the sport is all about coping with failure, Dan goes to extra lengths to be there for those kids who are struggling or in a slump. He knows first-hand how important it is for a young baseball player to have someone in their corner for them.

PLAYING TIME: Dan is a firm believer that most of the real work is done in practice sessions, but during games, each kid definitely wants a chance to show what we can do. To avoid problems with playing time, Dan makes a concerted effort to keep his rosters small, so that every kid on the team knows that he’ll be playing in the game when he comes to the ballpark that day.

SPECIALIZING: Dan knows that kids can burn-out or even get injured from overuse. As such, he encourages his ballplayers to play other sports throughout the fall and winter. Besides, as he points out, most of the athletic skills that one works on in, say, soccer or basketball, easily adapt to one’s baseball game.

Bottom line? This all makes a lot of sense. And if you’re thinking about starting or coaching a travel team, start with these basic tips from Dan Gray.