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PITCH COUNTS: Are They Really Working…or Resulting in Too Many HS Forfeits?

Now that we’re most than halfway through the HS baseball season, I thought it would be smart to review whether the state-by-state rules regarding pitch counts and limits are actually having a positive impact.

And overall, I do think it’s very fair to say that the pitch count rules have – if nothing else – have finally made baseball coaches — and hopefully parents — aware of the dangers of having young arms be overly taxed during their teenage years.

And that’s all to the good.

But in order to achieve this goal, there have been a lot of extra rules and regulations put into place, and seemingly done so in a rushed fashion. The end result has been a startling number of HS games forfeit due to pitch count violations, as well as more and more coaches trying to work a sense of gamemanship into their strategy. As a result, the bottom line is that the pitch count rules have to be viewed as very much a work still in progress.

As my guest Steve Kallas pointed out, there have games forfeit all over the country, including New Jersey, Illinois, North Carolina, Idaho – pretty much everywhere. For example, in Illinois, in one game, one team was up 13-3 and there was really no need for the starting pitcher who had the lead to go out and pitch another  inning. But his coach apparently lost track of how many days of rest the kid had, and the game ended up as a forfeit.

In fact, there have been at least 11 forfeits in Illinois this year alone. 

In Colorado, a HS which won a game 8-4 saw that win turn into a loss when they had to forfeit the game.

In North Carolina, the AD of the winning HS team reported his baseball coach’s mistake regarding a pitch count to the league board and that ended in a forfeit

Closer to home, in NJ, the Carteret  v. Perth Amboy game a couple of weeks ago ended with a pitch count dispute. The outcome of that game is still in dispute.

As the calls poured in, it was clear that HS coaches were now finding ways to use the pitch count as a weapon against the opposing team. For example, instructing one’s batters to take as many pitches as possible in order to push the pitcher’s count higher late in the game. Other coaches were throwing their ace only 30 pitches on one day, then allowing him to come back the very next day for another 30. Then, having him rest a day, and coming back to throw 50-60 pitches the next day. In many states, that’s very legal, even though it’s probably not very healthy for the kid’s arm.

Others complained about why it’s the home team that has the ultimate verdict on pitch counts. That is, if there’s a discrepancy between the home and visiting team, it’s the home team whose count wins. Umpires clearly do not want to get in the middle of these disputes.

And on and on the conversation went. It was clear to Steve and myself that this is an issue that needs to addressed and modified and reworked in the off-season. And the first issue to start with is – -why is the game totally forfeit? That seems like a draconian punishment for all concerned. There has to be a better – and fairer – way to protect kids’ arms via the new pitch count limits.



COPING WITH ADVERSITY: Are Sports Parents Shielding Their Kids Too Much?

 Teaching Youth Leaguers to Overcome Adversity:

Perspectives From a Hall of Fame Coach

By Doug Abrams

Tom Izzo, Michigan State University’s successful head basketball coach, sat for a lengthy interview last month on “The Drive With Jack Ebling.” The recent inductee into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame said that, “We’re creating a system that we’re never teaching a kid how to fight through [tough times].” Izzo sees the system’s fruits with collegiate players, but “creation” begins ripening earlier during the youth league years.

Coach Izzo’s commentary invites reexamination of how parents and coaches react to winning and losing in youth leagues. Fighting through adversity takes many forms, but teaching young players how to cope with defeat ranks high on the list.

No Winners Without Losers

First, a few preliminaries. . . . Too many youth league parents and coaches fear defeat, which the adults liken to failure. But youth leaguers need no shield because losing games is a natural, inevitable, and ultimately healthy part of growing up. Few youth teams go undefeated for very long. Every day of every season, at least half the children competing in America lose.  Each one returns to play another day.

Only one team can win each game, and only one team can finish in first place.  Youth-league standings typically show between five and ten “losing” teams for every first-place team. Some meets and tournaments create even greater disparities by guaranteeing 25 or more “losers” for every first-place finisher. One way or another, youth sports would have no “winners” without lots of “losers.”

Learning How to Lose

A colleague once told me that youth leaguers must learn how to lose gracefully before they can win with dignity. He said that most great professional athletes learned how to lose when they were young, and that the lesson helped make them stronger.

My colleague hit the target because, with guidance from their coaches and parents, young athletes can learn plenty from losing. In the short term, players on a winning streak can lapse into complacency and begin taking success for granted.  But when the team drops a few games, players may begin asking themselves, “What are we doing wrong, and how can we do better next game?”

Short term learning, however, is not the central point here. The central point concerns the longer term. Losing provides parents and coaches valuable opportunities to teach strength and resilience in the face of adversity. Youth leaguers benefit from learning how to rebound after setbacks because, like it or not, frustration and thwarted ambition will occur throughout adulthood.  For most adults, losses in life happen more frequently than victories. Youth sports provides exposure to the sting of setback when the stakes are not nearly as high as they will sometimes be later on.

Deflecting Responsibility

Let’s be honest – winning is preferable to losing. Youth sports depends on competitors who each strive to win every game within the rules, and athletes unconcerned about the score should not play. Except at the youngest age levels when scores should not matter, parents and coaches should want their children to win within the rules. But adults serve the children best by also delivering lessons from defeat.

In my years as a youth hockey coach, I watched some parents routinely deflect responsibility from their own children when the team came up short. Blame was cast on others. “We lost because of the coach” or (fill in the blank) “the referees,” “teammates who had an off-day,” or simply “bad luck.”

Child psychologists warn that by shielding their children from setbacks, parents such as these can leave the children ill-prepared to meet challenges of adulthood. Parents naturally want their player to succeed — to win more often than they lose — but young players also need adults who use defeats as “teachable moments,” opportunities to deliver supportive lessons about how to manage when things do not go right.

Lasting Dividends

These lessons can resonate when players move on with their lives long after their last youth league game. In my 35-year career as a law professor, I have seen students struggle to master their coursework, maintain their grades, and prepare for their chosen career. Law school paves a tough road. The curriculum is demanding. Despite the uninterrupted string of prior high school and undergraduate successes that gained them admission, most law students do not finish at or near the top of the class. Even the most talented law students have at least one course grade on their transcript that they wish was not there, and many law students have more than one.

When I see law students hit occasional barriers such as these, I sense that ex-athletes are often better equipped than their classmates to persevere because ex-athletes have learned how to lose, get up off the floor, and bounce back. Resilience and resolve in the face of adversity are lasting dividends of youth league competition.

Source: Chris Vannini, “Tom Izzo: We’re Creating a System Where Kids Don’t Learn to Handle Adversity,” (Apr. 13, 2017).


DANGERS OF CONCUSSIONS: New Study Suggests More Concussions in Girls Soccer than in HS Football

There was a recent study published headlined by a medical professor at Northwestern University who says that girls who play HS soccer suffer a much higher incidence of concussions than boys do – even those boys who play HS football.

As you might imagine, I was somewhat stunned by this. After all, the vast majority of attention in recent years has been paid to the long-term concerns regarding the health of football players. Sure, it’s well known that concussions can occur in any sport, but this new study shifts the focus to girls’ soccer, and that caught my eye.

In the study, which looked at 41,000 injuries to HS athletes in 9 popular sports between 2005-2015,  6,400 concussions were tabulated.

And during that time span, the concussion rate for girls’ soccer was higher than in football – and especially in the years from 2014-2015.

Now, if you’re a sports parent of a daughter who plays soccer, what does this mean? Suddenly, you may be having some of the medical misgivings about soccer as the parents of football players do. Of course, as I have noted over the years, concussions are part of all sports, and accidents do happen. I would daresay that it’s rare to find a kid who hasn’t suffered at least one concussion during their playing career.

But that being said, concussions do come in different degrees, and athletes and parents and coaches have to be careful about the handling of serious concussions. And medical doctors caution about repeated concussions; that is, one hit to the head can be treated, but if the youngster returns to action too soon, and receives another concussion, that’s where long-term concerns come into play.


In any event, I asked my listeners this AM as to what’s causing the spike in female concussions?  Is this due to excessive heading of the ball in soccer? Or heading being done incorrectly?

Should the girls in soccer be wearing more protective headgear? I know some girls wear protective headgear AFTER they suffer a concussion….but should they all be wearing headgear as a precaution as well?

And of course, is there just too much physical contact during the game?

Not surprisingly, the responses ranged from too much heading, and that it’s taught incorrectly at the younger ages when the most damage can be done to a developing brain. Head gear is also now receiving more and more attention as a protective measure. And finally, one caller suggested that the refs have to do a better job in controlling the physical action on the field in order to minimize physical contact. Kids falling to the turf and hitting their heads on the ground is a major source of concussion.


In addition, I know there’s been a lot of talk in recent months about girls lax and girls being told to wear headgear to protect them from concussions.

But from what I can tell, while some schools make such headgear mandatory, this protective trend isn’t really taking off in a big way – even though I can personally tell you from the years of watching my two daughters play lax in HS that there’s no question that getting hit in the head by a stick or errant pass is alarmingly routine in games.

Yet in discussing this issue with my daughters, they both felt strongly that protective headgear in lax would be a mistake – that it’s just not needed, and that it would indeed make the game much more aggressive as players would take more liberties in attacking opponents on the run and using their sticks.

Remember that traditionally, girls lax has been considered a non-contact sport. To me, though, and perhaps you share my views, I have never believed girls lax to be a non-contact sport. And if you have even seen a HS girls lax game recently, I’m sure you feel the same way. It is hardly a non-contact sport, and the fact that the girls do have to wear mouth guards and eye goggles and carry sticks and throw around a heavy hard rubber ball makes it a dangerous activity.

So where do we go from here? For starters, both in girls soccer and lax, more than ever it’s incumbent on parents and coaches to make sure that kids are well taught about how to head a soccer ball, and how to play a competitive game but not doing so in a physical manner. Same goes for lax. Learn how to use the lax stick as a tool, but not as a weapon. Learn how to control the ball and learn how to pass it correctly.

No, sadly, concussions are not going away. But we really do need to adopt protective measures at the youth level to make sure our daughters are protected.

YOUTH BASEBALL TRENDS: “Can’t Anybody Here Play This Game?”

When Casey Stengel was managing the hapless New York Mets in their first year of existence in 1962, Casey became so frustrated with his team’s lack of fundamental baseball that he once exclaimed in frustration: “Can’t anybody here play this game?”

That moment was well over 50 years ago, and of course, Casey, as he was wont to do, was exaggerating more than a bit.

But a few weeks ago, in a most provocative column in the New York Times, sportswriter Bill Pennington echoed Casey’s sentiments — sentiments, by the way, that not only do I share but they are shared by countless baseball coaches and fans across the country.

In short, Bill’s article basically said that due to the expansive growth in recent times of private coaches for hitting and for pitching instruction, we have now produced a ton of young ballplayers who are well skilled when it comes to those particular facets of the game….but unfortunately, the other parts of their baseball skills have been either somewhat left behind, or ignored, or just not taught. To be fair, Pennington wasn’t blaming the private instructors; he was just reporting what he has found.

In other words, young ballplayers today know that when college coaches or pro scouts come looking, they’re focusing on certain basic skills – can a pitcher throw really hard, and can a kid hit well and hit with power?

The problem is, all the other key stuff involved in playing baseball, like knowing how to field one’s position, or how to put down a sac bunt, or how to run the bases is either ignored, or just assumed that it can be taught later on. And as Pennington points out, it’s now fallen upon college coaches to spend copious amounts of time to educate college kids on the basics of the game.

It’s a startling observation and accusation…but it’s all true. Here’s a direct quote from Bill’s article:

In the last decade or so, a generation of top ballplayers has, in most cases, spent little time learning how to accurately throw across the diamond, catch a fly ball, field a ground ball and turn a double play, run the bases effectively, make a tag at first base, or God forbid, bunt.”

I anticipated a lot of calls on this topic, and indeed they poured in. Some callers pointed to the fact that most youth baseball leagues are coached by either Dads who don’t take the time to teach the basics, or for that matter, those Dads really don’t know the basics. Or that there’s just too much emphasis on playing a lot of games instead of having more practice sessions where drills can be implemented and taught.

Even worse, most practices just evolve into one long batting practice session where kids hit and the others just shag. That’s totally counterproductive in so many ways! A real practice session needs to focus on everything from cutoffs and relays, to how to run the bases, to how to play defense, and on and on Baseball is a complicated sport to play well, and in order to play it well, there’s lots of material that needs to be taught, and taught well.

To that end, Pennington pointed out that there’s lot of teaching material and guides that can be found easily online (such as MLB’s where youth, travel, and HS coaches can not only educate themselves on the finer points of the game, but where kids can learn inside baseball as well.

He also said that in his reporting, he discovered that lots of big-time college coaches at the D-I level recruit kids who can hit or pitch, but then the coaches literally teach them the finer points of the game.  That may hard to believe in this day and age, but it’s apparently a national trend.


Bill was also told by some top college coaches that they are now looking at the entire player’s skills set when they go to showcases to recruit. They want to see if the kid knows more about the game beyond just throwing hard, or hitting well. They want to see if the younger has a real feel of how to play the game.

But Bill did feel that this kind of turnaround – where kids begin to learn ALL aspects of playing baseball at an early age – is going to take a long time, and it’s going to take a real change in our current youth sports culture. I agree with Bill: baseball needs to be “reinvented” at the youth level if the game is going to survive in the years to come.






SPECIALIZATION CONCERNS: Why Does This Trend Continue When the Best Athletes Don’t Specialize?

A recent study by the prestigious American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons came up with two conclusions that sports parents ought to keep in mind.

The problem is….they seem to contradict the other.

Specifically, the Academy said that a recent survey found that 45% of all current HS athletes specialize in one sport. That is, they play that one sport pretty much all year round and don’t spend much time in participating in other HS sports.

Now, we all know that there’s been a substantial increase in the amount of specialization in this country, but apparently the numbers are now reaching close to 50 percent, which is pretty stunning. Remember, it’s the orthopedic surgeons who are the ones doing all of the surgery to repair repetitive use injuries in teenagers, such as Tommy John arm operations, torn ACLs, and so on. There are studies that show a direct correlation between all-year round specialization and a rise in youthful injuries.

But here’s the interesting part. A secondary conclusion of that Academy survey showed that when they talked to current professional athletes, only 22 percent of these elite athletes felt that it was a good idea for their kids to specialize in one sport. In fact, whereas the vast majority of most HS and college athletes felt it was a smart idea to focus on one sport in order to get ahead, only 62% felt that was important.

So here’s the disconnect: we now have a generation of HS athletes who are convinced that specialization is the key to success…..and yet those athletes who are at the top of the athletic pyramid feel pretty much that’s not necessary.


If you’re a mom or dad who has a kid starting out in sports, there seems to be a strong inclination to push one’s child into one sport at age 5 or 6, and keep them progressing as quickly as possible on that one track. If the parent has a favorite sport, say, ice hockey or soccer, parents are inclined to gently prod their kid into playing all year round in that one sport that the parent is familiar with.

Common sense, of course, dictates just the opposite: why not expose the child to a variety of sports, such as soccer, hockey, tennis, swimming, baseball, lax, and so on….and then let the child decide which sport (or sports) they would like to pursue?

Problem is, judging from the calls this AM, it would seem that too many parent s don’t want to take that kind of chance with their kids to play a variety of sports, or to trust them to decide what sport to play. Besides, motivated parents don’t want to “sacrifice” a year or two of development time when their child could be accelerating their advancement in one sport.


So if close to 50% of HS athletes only play one sport, what does this mean? For starters, it means that all-around athletes who used to play two or three HS sports during the year are no longer competing for their school at different sports. That means that HS coaches are looking at fewer talented players coming out for their squads. And in turn, it puts pressure on the HS coaches to try and “attract” top athletes to focus on their sport, rather than share them with their coaching colleagues.

And of course, with specialization, there’s a rise in repetitive use injuries, burn out issues, and for too many athletes, a sense that they are no longer playing sports because it’s fun and enjoyable, but instead, it’s become more of an obligation and a chore.

TRENDS IN SPORTS: Why are Fewer Kids Playing Baseball and Softball?

At a sports parenting event this past week in Norwalk, CT, several of the attendees mentioned that in recent years, there’s been a definite downward trend in terms of kids coming out for baseball and softball, especially at the youth levels.

That got me thinking, because certainly the popularity of sports goes up and down in cycles, pretty much like everything else in life. For example, we already know that youth football numbers have decreased dramatically due to worries about concussions. And the numbers for American youth involvement in tennis has also gone down, although there’s no clear reason as to why.

On this morning’s radio show, some callers suggested that the real, underlying reason for fewer numbers in certain sports has more do with the impact of elite travel teams than with a general lack of interest of the kids. What they meant was that unless a youngster is being viewed as a star at age 9 or 10, and as a result, are good enough to make an elite travel team, then all the other kids who are pretty good but not good enough to make the travel team often discover there are no other outlets in which to practice, play, and improve their skills.


In other words, these “on the bubble” kids as a I call them, find themselves basically disenfranchised. They really don’t have any other outlets in which to play their sport, and as a result, they leave that sport, and in many cases, they leave sports all together.

This is a development that really hasn’t been well documented, and yet, judging from the callers today, this is a growing trend. Kids who play baseball at age 9 or 10 either make an elite travel team, or if they get cut, then there’s no real place to work on their skills and improve. And the result is that fewer and fewer baseball players come out each spring. By the time these kids are HS age, the numbers for baseball and softball have become exceedingly small.

Or, more and more parents are convinced that their kids truly need to specialize in just one sport at an early age. So if a kid decides at age 6 or 7 to play soccer all year round, those kids a generation ago would have tried out for baseball or softball. But these days, due to specializing in just soccer, they no longer sign up for baseball or softball.

Overall, all of this is very unsettling. I mean, how does a parent or a coach determine that a kid at age 9 or 10 is one of the elite? Especially when these kids are still years away from their teenage years and possible growth spurts and lots of other changes associated with adolescence. Nobody seems to ask that question as it relates to kids losing interest in playing sports. What happens is, from the time they’re 10 until they’re 14 and ready for HS, they have stopped playing because they were deemed at a young age as to not being good enough to make a travel team at age 10.

If we’re trying to get kids to stay in shape and learn all the life-long lessons from playing sports, well, we’re not doing a very good job of encouraging them.


The other concern that popped up this AM was that more and more kids are spending more time playing electronic and video games. True, those games involve eye-hand coordination and one’s score is kept, but I think we all agree that playing video games is not really a sporting endeavor. Regardless, they are very tempting to kids, and it would seem that more and more kids now compete in traditional sports like baseball or football, but do so vicariously via video games.

What’s the bottom line? For better or worse, the travel team culture continues to have more impact on kids in sports these days than perhaps we might think.. And once again, I just wish that there were some federal guidelines or oversight to not only regulate the travel industry but also to provide sports parents with some needed help.

ABUSIVE SPORTS PARENTS: The Epidemic of Trying to Find Refs and Officials to Work Youth Games Continues…

Another Reminder About How Referee Shortages Can Threaten Youth Leaguers’ Safety

By Doug Abrams

Late last month, The Daily News (Longview, WA) published a thoughtful youth sports article by Jason Leskiw, “Officials Shortage Widespread Problem With No Solution Yet in Sight.” Prominent among the reasons for the shortage of officials in Washington state and Oregon, he wrote, are “unruly fans and parents.”

In previous columns, I have described how the shortage of officials can threaten player safety. This column repeats the message at the end here, but first let’s review some prior news articles. These articles demonstrate that the chronic shortage, driven by abusive adults, plagues interscholastic leagues and community youth leagues not only in the Pacific Northwest, but also throughout the nation. In my final few years as a youth hockey coach here in Missouri, I frequently heard parent spectators showering officials with obscenities and other insults that no respectable adult would direct at the family dog.

Lack of Respect

Last March, the Charlotte (N.C.) Observer published an article by Tim Stevens, “Abusive Fans Make It Tougher to Recruit High School Sports Refs.” The article led with this troublesome forecast: “Irate high school sports fans . . . are heaping so much abuse on referees that it is becoming hard for North Carolina and other states to recruit new officials as the current group edges toward retirement.”

A year earlier, the associate director of the Minnesota High School League told the Minneapolis Star Tribune that an array of “’sportsmanship issues’ causes most officials to quit and presents ‘a major hurdle when recruiting new officials.’’’ The associate director pointed to “a sometimes hostile game environment, chiefly created by critical coaches and parents.”

Under the headline, “Referee Shortage Tied to Lack of Respect,” the New York Times ran an Associated Press article in 2015 about the acute shortage of experienced youth sports officials from coast to coast. The AP reported that “[b]y all accounts, finding and retaining referees is becoming more and more difficult” because of “growing animosity and poor behavior among fans and coaches.”

In 2014, the Bakersfield Californian reported that all county high school varsity and sub-varsity leagues continued to experience referee attrition similar to that reported most recently in Washington and Oregon. A former president of the county’s Officials Association, a longtime baseball umpire, explained the primary cause: “Nobody wants to umpire because most people . . . don’t want to go out there and get yelled at, screamed at, and shown up.”

The Deseret (Utah) Morning News explained that “[b]rand-new officials often suffer through their first season of abuse before deciding that refereeing just isn’t worth it.” Among the officials I have known over the years, most stepped forward not primarily for the relatively modest stipends, but to remain active in the game while serving young athletes and their families. Most officials are family men and women with personal obligations and reputations. Most can find other ways to participate in community life free from public abuse (verbal and sometimes physical) dished out by other adults, often with the officials’ own spouses and children looking on.

“Parents Expect NHL Referees”

In the younger age groups, community youth leagues frequently recruit teens to replace departed adult officials. In my last few years coaching 9-10-year-old squirt hockey teams, I cannot recall seeing a referee over the age of about 15, except occasionally in the playoffs. Teen referees typically seek to earn a few dollars, assume a leadership role, and list community service as a credential on their college and employment applications. In my experience, the teens take their responsibilities seriously and generally do an excellent job. But they too are often chased away, once they or their families lose patience with parents and coaches who may tag the adolescents as easier marks for harassment than adult officials. Every teen official is someone else’s child.

In 2013, CBC News (the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) ran a story under the headline, Teen Hockey Refs Quitting Over Verbal Abuse. The vice president of the Saskatchewan Referees Association explained why so many teens in the province refuse to officiate in the younger age groups. “I go the rink all the time and supervise,” he said, and “I have a hard time sitting there and watching games because parents just start yelling and swearing for no reason.” The targeted referees are “kids . . . doing their best,” but “parents expect NHL referees.”

Compromising Safety

What negative effects does this adult “referee rage” have on the players? Even casual observers notice when games may be postponed, rescheduled, or even canceled for lack of available officials. Or when parents or coaches trash sportsmanship, civility, and respect in full view of their young athletes. Safety issues, however, can escape the untrained eye.

Especially in contact and collision sports, the shortage of experienced officials can increase the risk of injury to players on the field, including players who follow the rules of the game. “To be effective for promoting safety,” says a recent medical study, a sport’s rules “must be enforced rigorously and consistently by referees and leagues.” Parents and coaches assume enforcement roles, but referees are the primary enforcers once the game starts. The American Academy of Pediatrics reports consensus among medical professionals that “[o]fficials controlling the physicality of the game . . . can . . . play significant roles in reducing contact injuries.”

This essential control can suffer when so many veteran referees quit each year. Many replacement refs are simply not ready for the responsibilities cast on them. But for the premature departures of so many seasoned veterans, many of the replacements trying to control the game would not yet be on the field.

What Can Be Done to Promote Player Safety?

Some of my prior columns have discussed measures that can help counter abusive adults who may compromise player safety. In written rules distributed during preseason parents and coaches meetings, for example, leagues and teams can state their expectations for adult civility. Leagues and teams must back up these expectations by disciplining parents or coaches whose abuse of officials crosses the line. Rules unenforced remain mere words on paper, awaiting the next incident.

Coaches can sometimes set the tone for the team. In a preseason parents meeting, coaches can deliver the message that abuse of officials is “not how we do things here. Our sons and daughters are watching and we set the example.” Youth coaching resembles a season-long game of “follow the leader,” and the followers include both the players and their parents.

With criminal assault statutes already on the books, prosecutors should take reported physical assaults on adult officials more seriously than they sometimes do. And in extreme cases when parents or coaches verbally or physically abuse teen officials, authorities should contemplate child abuse or child endangerment charges.

Most parents and coaches do not stoop to verbal or physical abuse of officials, but the majority’s presence does not necessarily diminish the errant minority’s destructive influence. Parents and coaches often get the quality of officiating they deserve, and the stakes are high because player safety may depend on the outcome.


Sources: Tim Stevens, Abusive Fans Make It Tougher to Recruit High School Sports Refs, Charlotte (N.C.) Observer, Mar. 27, 2016; David La Vaque, Help Wanted: High School Officials, Star Tribune (Minneapolis, Minn.), July 31, 2015; Assoc. Press, Referee Shortage Tied to Lack of Respect, N.Y. Times, Nov. 28, 2015;  Jeff Evans, Kern County Association Faces Referee Shortage, Bakersfield Californian, June 10, 2014; Jim Thompson, The Double-Goal Coach, p. 4 (2003); Dan Rasmussen, Referee Shortage Hurting Soccer, Deseret (Utah) Morning News, Apr. 26, 2005; CBC News, Teen Hockey Refs Quitting Over Verbal Abuse, Nov. 25, 2013;Charles H. Tator et al., Spinal Injuries in Canadian Ice Hockey: An Update to 2005, 19 Clin. J. Sport Med. 451 (2009); Chris G. Kouteres & Andrew J.M. Gregory, Injuries in Youth Soccer, 125 Pediatrics 410 (Feb. 2010).

REFLECTIONS: The Games That Your Young Athletes Will Remember…

Editor’s note: DAN VENEZIA, a former professional baseball player in the Twins’ organization, is a youth sports coach and author of the children’s book, “Coach Dan on Sportsmanship.” His website is 

Dan recently shared his coaching story with me, and I wanted to share it with you.

I’d like to share a great story, one that happened on Ash Wednesday during my rec basketball game of middle school kids. At the end of the first quarter, I was talking to the refs and they pointed out that one of the opposing players was autistic.  The opposing team had only 5 players show up that day, we were winning by 15 or 20 and already slowing it down.  So we stopped the fast breaks, and stopped taking three pointers.  I honestly did not notice this player as he really wasn’t involved or engaged in any of the plays.  His team had not won a game all season, which was probably why they had dwindled down to just five players.

I immediately called a time out and let my team know about the boy we were playing against.  I asked them to try and get him the ball without making it obvious.  Miss the pass, or make a poor one.  The goal was to get this player (Stephen) the ball and to get him to score.  I was so happy that every one of my kids bought into this concept.  Slowly but surely, they got him the ball.  I wish we could have captured the moment on video because his face lit up each time the ball made it into his hands.  The problem was, he was on our side of the court and although we backed off on defense, he dribbled a few times and then would pass it on to his teammates.

After 3 or 4 attempts, I called another time out and spoke to the opposing coach.  By this point he knew what we were trying to do.  I told him it would be helpful if we got Stephen the ball on his side of the court because we would love to see him make a basket.  So we left him open in the corner and he began to get passes from his teammates but with each pass he would give it back to one of his teammates.  After another time out, I instructed my team to play tight defense on everyone else, giving Stephen no alternative but to shoot.

Once again, my team responded and Stephen took a shot from 3 point land and missed, but not by much.  You could hear the crowd in the gym catching on and slowing building a sense of momentum with each pass and shot. The ooh’s and ahh’s got louder each time.  Then, with an open lane, Stephen dribbled twice and took a 10 foot shot, banking it in.  The place erupted, a standing ovation followed and Stephen smiled from ear to ear.

I couldn’t be more proud of the nine 7th and 8th grader’s on my squad.  I told them that they would not remember every rec basketball game or youth sporting event, but this game is one they would remember for a lifetime.  The important lessons of compassion, team play, and sportsmanship are ones that will stay with them for a good long time.


The irony of it all, was earlier in the day, I had made a decision for the Lentin season.  Instead of giving something up, I had decided to give up something but didn’t know exactly what to give.   I came up with a simple 4 word motto to try to live by.  “Make today mean something!”

In truth, I wasn’t thinking about that motto during the game; it just sort of happened.  It wasn’t until later on that evening that I realized that “today” had meant something for so many people, the fans, the players, the officials, and most importantly, for the young man who simply put the ball in the basket.




TRENDS IN SPORTS: How Can We Make Baseball More Attractive to Younger Kids?

It was a real treat to talk with my old Detroit Tigers’ teammate Joe McIlvaine this AM. Joe was a hard-throwing right-hander when we both played in the Tigers’ organization back in the mid-1970s. When his playing career came to an end, Joe stayed in pro ball as a scout and eventually his talents took  him all the way to become the GM of both the New York Mets and the San Diego Padres.

But on this AM’s WFAN show, I focused my questions on why baseball – the National Pastime – seems to be fading from interest from young kids. The usual reasons were trotted out: the game is too slow, it’s too hard to play, and the other competing sports do a much better job in marketing to the youth of today.

To his credit, Joe acknowledged all of these issues, but also agreed with me that, at least in terms of attendance and TV revenue, the game has never been more profitable. Minor league franchises are worth millions, and families still flock to minor league ballparks.

But at the same time, you never see American kids play pick-up games on sandlots or fields these days. Those days are seemingly gone, unlike in, say, the Dominican Republic kids are playing ball all the time on their own.

But as the calls poured in, lots of people reflected that baseball is seen as a sport for the older generation, e.g. people older than 50. If that’s true (and it probably is), then MLB and the Commissioner need to step up with a new marketing plan for the younger generation. McIlvaine mentioned that the impact of travel teams has really had a major impact on kids from poorer families — that the cost of committing to a travel team is beyond their financial reach. And of course, in terms of college scholarships these days, it’s only football and basketball where there’s substantial money for underprivileged kids. Baseball is still seen as a non-revenue sport at most colleges and as such, full scholarships for baseball – unlike football and basketball — are rare.


I made one suggestion that Joe agreed with: that MLB should sell baseball to young kids as being the most difficult sport to play, both physically and mentally. There’s more failure in baseball, simply because the skills are so difficult to master. As examples, I pointed to perhaps the greatest basketball player of all time, Michael Jordan, who tried to play professional baseball at the peak of his basketball career and he barely hit .200 in the minors. And then, more recently, former Heisman Winner Tim Tebow is running into the same struggles with the game of baseball.

I had suggested this because MLB seems too focused on speeding the game up by getting rid of intentional walks, or by putting pitchers on a clock. Those are nice suggestions, to be sure, but of course, the real issue why baseball is so slow these days is because of the 2-3 minute commercial breaks between every half-inning.

Of course, you will never hear MLB suggest that those commercial breaks go away simply because that’s where the owners make all their money. Unfortunately, if the breaks were somehow reduced to only 1 minute you would immediately shave 30-45 minutes off each game. Back in the 1920s and 1930s, before the true advent of TV and radio commercials, the typical major league game lasted 2 hours, tops. That’s a big difference, and by the way, the ballplayers themselves also prefer shorter games.

I agree that making major league games shorter would definitely help, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg. MLB needs to find a way to make the game exciting and emotional – just like the World Baseball Classic that was conducted this spring. That was a major plus for MLB.


But as much as we’d like to streamline the game, the fact remains that for those players who are good enough to play at the big league level, the financial rewards are still overwhelming. And of course, in order to afford to pay those staggering salaries, TV and radio money are vital. To me, and I’m sure Joe McIlvaine would agree, that’s the issue. And until that changes, the games will simply remain long, and for too many kids, too boring.

It’s a real problem, and MLB seems to be either ignoring the issue, or just putting a Band-aid on a broken arm. Here’s hoping they wake up before it’s too late.




PITCH COUNTS: A Deeper Look into New York State’s Rules


                                                    By Steve Kallas

(The following article discusses the new pitch count rules for New York State only.  For a list of the rules in other states, please see J.J. Cooper’s article at entitled, “High School Pitch Count Rules By State.”)

In July 2016, the National Federation of State High School Associations (“NFHS”) announced that, beginning with the 2017 spring baseball season, each state member would have to institute a pitch count rule for high school baseball.  Now, virtually every state has their own rules and, while well-intentioned, there are already issues depending upon the state.  New York State, in particular, has made a terrible mistake by changing the common definition of days of rest.


Following the directive of the NFHS, the New York State Public High School Athletic Association (“NYSPHSAA”) Executive Committee held meetings on October 19, 2016 and January 27, 2017.  At these meetings, the new pitch count rules were discussed, first as a “Discussion/Information Item” (at the October meeting) and then as an “Action Item” in January.  At the January meeting, the rules discussed below were approved for implementation for the 2017 spring season.

It should be noted here that the NYSPHSAA does not govern public schools in New York City.  Those public schools are governed by the Public Schools Athletic League (“PSAL”).  The PSAL has had pitch count rules in effect since 2011.  In addition, the Catholic High School Athletic Association (“CHSAA”) recently piggy-backed on the NYSPHSAA rules with one major improvement.


We will focus on the new high school varsity rules.

Here are the pitch counts set forth for varsity play this year included with what New York State is calling “nights of rest.”  Unfortunately, right away, the theory of nights of rest (as opposed to days of rest) is a dangerous one for young pitchers and New York seems to be the only state to use this odd distinction.

If a varsity pitcher throws 1-30 pitches, he needs one night of rest; 31-65 pitches, two nights of rest; 66-95 pitches, three nights of rest; and 96-105 pitches, four nights of rest.

Here’s the dangerous part.  Any major league baseball fan knows and understands that a pitcher today pitches on four days of rest; that is, if he pitches on Monday, he rests on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, and is ready to take his regular turn pitching on Saturday.  But in New York, for high school kids who throw between 96 and 105 pitches in a game, the rules talk about nights of rest and, believe it or not, when a high school kid (of any age) pitches on Monday afternoon, his first “night” of rest is MONDAY NIGHT (not Tuesday).

So, New York has taken off a day of rest by changing the age-old definition of a day of rest.  In New York, when your son pitches on Monday, he “rests” on Monday night, Tuesday night, Wednesday night and Thursday night, and is actually allowed to throw another 105 pitches on Friday.

That is really the equivalent of pitching on three days of rest, not four.  Understand that, in 2017, no major league pitcher does this unless their team is in a tight playoff race late in the season or in the playoffs.  And when, in the pros, they talk about a pitcher pitching on “short” rest, well, that’s what New York State pitchers will be routinely doing based on this redefining of days of rest to nights of rest.


Dr. James Andrews is considered by virtually everybody to be the foremost authority in the world on pitching arms (young and professional) and suggested pitch counts and days of rest for high school pitchers.  Indeed, it is Dr. Andrews, his assistant Dr. Glenn Fleisig, Dr. Christopher Ahmad (head team physician of the New York Yankees) and others who combined to recommend pitching guidelines for PitchSmart (  It is these recommendations that were given to the NFHS, among others, and, hopefully, would have been implemented by New York State and others.


The Pitch Smart recommendations are as follows (and days of rest is days of rest as everybody knows them; the following day is the first day of rest, not the night that you pitch). For 17-18 year olds (essentially, but not always, the age of high school varsity pitchers), the recommendations are: 1-30 pitches, no days of rest; 31-45 pitches, 1 day of rest, 46-60 pitches, two days of rest; 61-80 pitches, three days of rest; 81 or more pitches, four days of rest.

While virtually all states have not followed these recommendations (nor, apparently, is there any requirement that they must), New York has really created a potential problem for young pitchers by eliminating one day of rest by inventing the “night” of rest.

So, as of now, a varsity pitcher who throws 95 pitches on Tuesday can throw 95 pitches on Friday (that’s three nights but, really, only two days of rest) and then throw 95 more the following Monday.  Understand that no major league pitcher throws 285 pitches in seven days except in the rarest of circumstances.  These regulations are even worse than the four nights of rest.  But even with four nights of rest (which, again, is only three days of rest), a high school varsity pitcher can throw 105 pitches on Tuesday, 105 on Saturday and another 105 on Wednesday.  Again, no major league baseball pitcher will throw 315 pitches in nine days except in the rarest of circumstances.

By definition, the “nights” of rest definition is a bad rule.

The CHSAA, realizing the mistake that’s been made by the NYSPHSAA, has recently instituted similar rules but counts the days of rest as the rest of the country counts days of rest; that is, if you pitch the maximum on Monday, you can’t pitch again until Saturday (four days of rest).


For some reason, when playoff time comes around, the NYSPHAA has decided to increase the number of allowable pitches to a maximum of 125.  The “Varsity Post Season” rules are: 1-40 pitches, one night of rest (that means you can throw 40 pitches on Tuesday, rest Tuesday night and throw 40 pitches on Wednesday); 41-71 pitches, two nights of rest (that means you can throw 71 pitches on Tuesday and 71 more on Thursday and 71 more on Saturday); 72-102 pitches, three nights of rest (that means you can throw 102 on Tuesday, 102 more on Friday and 102 more on Monday for a grand total of 306 in seven days, which is pretty scary); and 103-125 pitches, four nights of rest, (that means you can throw 125 on Tuesday, 125 more on Saturday and 125 more on Wednesday for another scary total of 375 pitches in nine days).

Again, virtually no major league pitcher will throw that many pitches in a seven or nine-day span.


Actually, an interesting question.  Most high school coaches are right-minded people looking out for the best interests of their players, especially their pitchers.  These pitch count rules, even with a poor definition of days of rest, are better than the prior rule which, believe it or not, put a limit of 12 (yes, 12) innings in one appearance.  You only have to go to a few high school games to understand that a 12- inning appearance could easily go into the 140s or higher for a pitch count.

The problem becomes with that rare coach who wants to win at all costs, or the coach who thinks that, since he has a big, strong kid who’s willing to keep going out there, it won’t hurt him this one time, or the coach who loses his mind because, after all, it’s the playoffs.

On balance, it says here that pitch counts are necessary.  Indeed, what this really means, especially for small schools, is that a higher percentage of your team has to be able to pitch (at least a few innings) to get through the season, especially later in the season when the rainouts and cancellations have to be made up.


While the overwhelming majority of coaches do a good job managing their pitchers to protect their arms, the theory here is that, given the explosion in Tommy John surgeries in the last 15 years or so, something had to be done.  Many of these coaches correctly point out that these rules won’t stop a kid from pitching for his high school during the week and then pitching on the weekend for a travel team or at a showcase, where he will throw as hard as he can (to impress college coaches or major league scouts).

While there is, at times, some overlap between the high school season and other baseball commitments, this is where the intelligent parent(s) has to step in and protect their son.  When your child is an excellent young pitcher, many people will try to take advantage of that.  While there are many excellent travel coaches, you probably should not let your child pitch on two teams at once; if you do, then it is up to you to regulate his pitch count.

Travel coaches are also in the business of winning.  The best approach, in this writer’s opinion, is to avoid pitching for multiple teams at the same time.  If your son does, keep his pitch count, not per team, but for your son as an individual.  If he has the talent to go to a showcase, talk with one or both coaches to set up a proper rest period both before and after the showcase.  Or, don’t go to a showcase at all (which would be tough under today’s system).

I would strongly suggest that you follow the guidelines for pitches AND days of rest at  These have recommendations for all ages.  If you can adhere to these recommendations (or, at least, get close to them), this will give your son a better chance (no guarantees) that he can avoid the epidemic of arm injuries that is spreading across the country now.


Who’s going to count the pitches?  The new rule states that each team keeps the pitch count, checks with the other and, if there’s a discrepancy, the home team’s count rules.

Uh-oh!  That could be a problem if the count goes up a pitch or two (or three) per inning against the visiting team’s star pitcher.  Could that happen? Well, in the overwhelming majority of situations, it won’t.  But, mistakes are made and, on (rare) occasions, someone may try to get the upper hand.

Also, for violation of this rule, the punishment doesn’t fit the crime.  Apparently, games can (and will?) be forfeited if pitch count mistakes are made.  That raises a number of issues: what if it was an honest mistake? How do you prove it (absent a video of the game, which may now occur more)?  Isn’t that too big of a penalty?

The PSAL rule is that the coach is suspended for one game on the first violation.  After that, more serious punishment, including forfeiture of the game, is considered.  Indeed, the NYSPHSAA originally had a one-game suspension for the coach for the first offense and a two-game suspension and forfeiture for the second offense.

But the final rule states forfeiture for the first offense.  The PSAL rule seems more reasonable.


While well-meaning, the new rules for pitch counts, days of rest and penalties for mistakes can (and will) lead to issues.  While an improvement on the past innings-limit rules (12 innings in one appearance and no more than 18 innings in a six-day period), they have to be carefully monitored and looked at during the season.

Obviously, that definition of rest should be changed immediately and the pitch counters have to be looked at carefully (and improved).

And, remember, parents, it’s up to YOU, more than anyone (including right-minded coaches), to protect your son.

By the way…..the pitch count rules for JV/FR:  1-30 pitches, one night of rest; 31-45 pitches, two nights of rest; 46-75 pitches, three nights of rest; 76-85 pitches, four nights of rest*

Pitch count rules for Modified: 1-20 pitches, one night of rest; 21-40 pitches, two nights of rest; 41-60 pitches, three nights of rest; 61-75 pitches, four nights of rest*

*Remember, the first night of rest is the night that you pitched. See main article for further explanation

Editor’s Note: In addition to being a top attorney and sports parenting expert, Steve was a standout Division I baseball player at New York University.