Archive for Trends in Sports

TRENDS IN SPORTS: NBA to Copy LL World Series with Junior NBA Championships

I was reading this past week about a brand new concept that’s being introduced by the NBA – a concept that will have a direct impact on kids who play basketball and who aspire to play at a higher level. The idea is aimed to develop a similar kind of national and international playoffs and world championship – just like they do each August in Williamsport – but with basketball kids who are 13 and 14 years old.

And like LL, the NBA would televise these games, and of course, they would show case these kids as rising stars in the game of basketball.

In discussing this idea on WFAN this radio, I received all sorts of responses from basketball coaches and fans. The responses, I would say, were mixed to the NBA tournament.

But first, let me post verbatim from the NBA’s press release of a few days ago (I added the boldfacing):

“In showcasing the world’s top young talent, the Jr. NBA World Championship will be centered on four core values – teamwork, respect, determination and community – that will set a new standard in youth basketball development.  In collaboration with USA Basketball and FIBA, the competition will promote standards of safe play as well as the proper training and licensing of coaches to enhance the experience for everyone involved.

The Jr. NBA World Championship will align with the NBA and USA Basketball Youth Guidelines, which promote health and wellness in several ways including recommending age-appropriate limits on the number of games that youth should play.  All coaches participating in the Jr. NBA World Championship will also be required to be trained and licensed by USA Basketball (U.S.-based coaches) or FIBA (international coaches).

Youth at the Jr. NBA World Championship will not only compete on the court but will also receive off-court life skills education and participate in NBA Cares community service projects.”

I came away with a few takeaways from this announcement. Clearly the NBA is eager to take control of the pipeline of the best young players in the world. That has traditionally been the domain of AAU basketball in this country. What this new move by the NBA and how it will affect AAU is unclear. As several of the callers pointed out today, the AAU season goes from March through June, so at least on paper, this shouldn’t have an impact. Plus, the elite AAU teams are comprised of HS upperclassmen, not kids in 8th or 9th grade.

And the press announcement made it clear that only coaches who have been trained and licensed by USA Basketball will be allowed to coach in the tournament. Again, it’s unclear how this would affect AAU programs.

Another question that arose is how teams for the tournament will qualify. That is, will it be travel basketball teams or regional teams? Or just LL, will there be only local town teams that are allowed to participate?

QUESTIONS AND MORE QUESTIONS

One caller asked whether the kids and their teams who qualify would be somehow compensated for their advancement. After all, the NBA will make money from corporate sponsors and from TV sponsors. But just like LL baseball players, what do the kids (and their families) receive except for a lifetime of memories? As the caller said, “Memories are very nice….but why not add some some of financial stipend that can be used for the kid’s college education?”

That would be a very, very nice touch. LL has not offered that yet, but perhaps the NBA will be more enlightened.

Some sports parenting pundits have worried about the extra pressures that having young teenagers play on national TV is unnecessary pressure. But I don’t share that concern. Kids today relish the opportunity to strut their stuff on TV (to wit, look at the LL World Series), and I haven’t heard or read of any undue issues with that.

Plus if the coaches are truly well taught by USA Basketball on the elements of team play, discipline, defense, and so on, then I think that’s another major plus for these talented kids. As I have noted in the past, AAU coaches can vary widely in their ability to teach the whole game; too often, AAU has devolved into being nothing more than a personal showcase for kids to shoot and score.

So for right now, I’m cautiously optimistic about the NBA Jr. World Championship. I’m eager to find out more about the details, and if it works, then who knows? Maybe there will be world championships for other team sports, such as ice hockey, lacrosse, soccer, field hockey, and volleyball?

 

 

TRENDS IN SPORTS: What Parents Need to Know about Youth Hockey

I really can’t recall the last time I did a WFAN show on the sport of youth and travel team hockey. Which is curious, because for years, ice hockey was the poster child for everything that was wrong about over-the-top and obnoxious sports parents…concerns about a kid’s playing time…travel team tryouts…the expense of travel team play…concussion worries….and on and on.

But the good news is that instead of trying to downplay or deny that these were real concerns, USA Hockey  — the governing body of youth and amateur hockey in this country –  stepped up and started to address these issues head on. And they did so with a sense of real commitment.

Unlike some other national youth sports organizations, which have either shunned critically important issues or stuck their head in the sand, USA Hockey has become a real leader when it comes to putting its priorities in order.

To that end, I asked Mike Bonelli, who has been involved in youth hockey for years and is the East District Coach in Chief for USA Hockey in NY (covering Long Island, Westchester, Putnam, and Dutchess counties) since 2012 and oversees the education for over 900 coaches each year in that district to be guest this AM to talk about the proactive approach of USA Hockey. Here were a few of the highlights:

1 – A reminder that fighting in all youth, HS, and travel team hockey is strictly forbidden.

Too many NHL games are still marred by fights on the ice. Players drop their gloves and bang away at each other like prize fighters until they run out of steam. Problem is, the number of these players who suffer serious concussions from these confrontations continues to grow, and unfortunately, they too often lead to mental issues and presumably the build-up of CTE in their brains. Dementia and even suicide has become too common with these players who make their living with their fists instead of their skates.

Bonelli emphasized that not only is fighting not allowed in amateur hockey, but that kids grow up these days understanding that if they do get in a fight, they are not only disqualified from that game, but also for the next game and sometimes more games beyond that.

For enthusiastic hockey players, the idea of being banned for a couple of games usually deters them from fighting. That, of course, is a good — and safe — thing.

2 – Let’s talk about travel hockey and tryouts

How does USA Hockey view tryouts for their youth programs….what’s the best way to run these tryouts?

With hockey becoming more popular, most programs DO offer A or B or even in-house teams where kids can continue to play….

In my experience, kids – especially young kids – just want a place where they can get out on the ice, learn skills, and get a chance to play in games – it really doesn’t matter at what level.

Tryouts still exist, but USA Hockey is doing more to give feedback.

As one of the callers said today, tryouts in sports are inevitable. And kids are disappointed if they don’t make the “A” team. But as Mike Bonelli pointed out, USA Hockey does not want kids to walk away. That’s why more and more youth programs are offering B and C teams, and if necessary, house leagues where any kid who has the desire to keep playing hockey can do so.

Just like in other sports, the world of hockey has lots of examples of young players who were cut at an early age but who kept playing and eventually blossomed into a top player. Dom Chara, the 6-9 defenseman, was once cut in his youth league program. But he wanted to keep playing, and along the way, he grew another 10 inches which of course helped.

But more importantly, USA Hockey coaches are encouraged to provide real feedback to young skaters – to let them know what their strengths are, and more importantly, what they need to work on in order to develop. That’s a great plus.

3 – Getting up real early for hockey practice?

It used to be common place for young skaters to have practice and games at 6 AM or earlier. The good news is that’s becoming less and less of a standard routine as more rinks are popping up all over.

Trust me, for any hockey parent who has had to brave frigid temps to drive their kid to a rink in pre-dawn hours, this is very welcome news.

As Mike pointed out, “You don’t do much to encourage kids to play hockey when they have to get up at 5 AM to go to the rink. And the parents don’t like it either.”

 

4 – No need to specialize at an early age.

Turns out that Mike not only played hockey as a kid, but also baseball, soccer, tennis, and so on. As such, while he does believe it’s important for a youngster to learn how to skate at a young age (simply because it’s so much harder to develop that skill later on), it’s always a good idea for a kid to play a variety of sports.

Only when a youngster is around 15 or 16 should he or she start to think about just specializing hockey. We’ve heard the same advice from other coaches in other sports as well, i.e. not need to specialize at too young an age.

I recall a chance encounter with Marcel Dionne, the NHL Hall of Famer, whose son was playing on a mite team with my son some years ago. I asked Marcel about when he was growing up in Canada, did he play hockey all year round, which many hockey parents still think is the right path for their kid.

Marcel looked at me and patiently explained in his French Canadian accent that “In the fall we played either football or soccer, then in winter we played hockey, and then in the spring, we played baseball. Nobody played hockey all year round.”

5 – A sport for life.

One last note. Of all the sports, there’s something about ice hockey that seems to attract players for their entire lives. Whether it’s the thrill of going fast on the ice, or of handling the puck, or just playing pond hockey with your buddies on a cold wintry day, there’s something about this sport in particular that keeps players coming back for years and years.

It’s hard to explain why, but anyone who has played ice hockey just seems to get that bug into their veins and it lasts for a lifetime. My son John is 34 and has been skating for most of his life. In fact, I have a sense he’s going to keep skating for the next 34 years of his life.

 

 

TRENDS IN YOUTH SPORTS: What’s Wrong with US Men’s Soccer?

So we’re in the middle of October and there are lots of major events happening in the world of sports including major league baseball playoffs and the upcoming World Series, the NFL and college football, and of course the start of the NBA and NHL.

But in spite of all the great goings-on in those sports, it’s hard to overlook one of the major disappointments for American sports fans this past week. And of cours, I’m talking about the US men’s soccer team not qualifying for the World Cup.

Their 2-1 loss to Trinidad and Tobago sent shock waves throughout US Soccer.

But from a positive perspective, maybe this is just the kind of harsh wake-up call that’s needed to totally re-evaluate and re-examine how we raise our kids in soccer in this country.

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TRENDS IN SPORTS: New Study Suggests Fewer Kids Are Playing Sports

A new study was just released this past week which  suggests that fewer kids between the ages of 6-12 are participating in sports. In fact, the number of kids playing organized team sports has dropped by a stunning 8 percent over the last decade.

Now, if this is really true, that is quite a drop off. And it’s very troubling.

The study comes from the Sports and Fitness Industry Association and the Aspen Institute. They claims that back in 2008, 45 percent of kids ages 6-12 played in team sports. But in 2017, that number has dropped down to only 37 percent.

Why the decline? The leading theory put forth by these two groups is that because travel teams have become so well accepted as the vehicle for kids to get ahead, it’s now become a case of  financial “haves and have nots”when it come to youth sports.

“Sports in America have separated into sport-haves and have-nots,” said Tom Farrey, executive director of Aspen’s Sports & Society program. The group released its research at its annual Project Play Summit on Wednesday in Washington and it was reported in the Washington Post. “All that matters is if kids come from a family that has resources. If you don’t have money, it’s hard to play.”

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TRENDS IN SPORTS: TIME Magazine Cover Story Reveals Youth Sports is a $15 Billion Industry

Hard to believe, but true.

I grew up during a time when youth sports were not influenced by parents, travel teams, elite camps, the college recruiting of middle school kids, and so on. When you went outside to play with your friends, you found an empty field or sandlot, put down markers for boundaries, and depending on the season, you played touch football, baseball, basketball, soccer, whatever. Markers usually consisted on somebody’s jacket or a sweater to show where out of bounds were. There were no white lines. If your (wooden) baseball bat broke, you didn’t throw it away. Rather, you took it home, found some small nails to fix it, and taped it up so you could use it again.

I know, I know. This all sounds ancient and prehistoric. No youngster today could even imagine this kind of world. But of course, it did exist, and it existed not that long ago.

That’s why Sean Gregory‘s cover story in this week’s TIME Magazine had such great impact. Why? Because it summarized the out of control parental obsession with their kids in sports, and even worse, that this obsession – and that’s what it is – not only shows no sign of letting up, if anything, it’s only accelerating. On my show this AM, Sean talked about 10-year-old Joey Baseball, a talented but smallish kid who travels all around the country to play baseball. He’s able to do this because his parents are affluent and they figure that since they have the financial means to do this, why not? But as Sean also cautioned, these parents know that everything might change when their son becomes a teenager, and he may no longer be the star that he is today.

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INTRODUCING OLD SCHOOL NEW SCHOOL: A Different Kind of Sports Podcast

Dear Friends of Ask Coach Wolff:

I wanted to tell you about a new and different kind of podcast. It’s entitled “Old School v. New School” and it features my new son-in-law, Noah Savage, and myself. Noah is a 31-year-old 6-7 former All-Ivy League basketball player at Princeton, and I think it’s safe to say that he represents a new and different way of looking at the world of sports. He is most definitely “New School.”

And as for me, I’m considerably older than Noah, and of course, my views on sports tend to be a little more on the conservative side. Thus, I’m “Old School.”

In any event, Noah and I take on timely and controversial topics in sports, and we discuss our views in a new podcast series. It’s a lot of fun and clearly different in scope.  I would urge you all to sign up (see below – it’s easy), and then tell all your friends to listen in as well.

There’s several ways to listen:

ON THE COMPUTER

It’s available on Itunes and you can listen by clicking this link http://oldschoolnewschool.libsyn.com/

ON IPHONE by searching “Old School New School” on your podcast app on your Iphone. (It is the purple icon that says “podcast” on it) If you subscribe then the newest episodes will update each time you open that app and click “feed.”

Please click “Subscribe” then rate and review it!

We will release a new episode every Friday morning so that you can power through that last workday of the week.

Here’s a quick description:

Old School / New School is a new podcast where two sports broadcasters- Rick Wolff and Noah Savage – debate today’s most controversial and pressing sports issues from two very different perspectives – most notably that Wolff, in his 60s, is definitely “old school” whereas Savage, 31, is clearly “new school.”  Oh, and Noah happens to be Rick’s son-in-law.

Enjoy!

TRENDS IN SPORTS: More Discussion of E-Gaming as Sport

Building upon Doug Abram’s superb column from earlier this week about the threat that videogames pose to our kids’ long-term health, I presented to the WFAN listening audience this straightforward question: knowing how popular videogaming has become in recent years with our kids, has it now reached a level where it can and should be considered as a real sport?

Not surprisingly, the general response was that no, it’s not a sport, but more of an activity. Something closer in scope to playing cards or throwing darts than. say, a traditional athletic pursuit like football, lacrosse, or baseball. The key criteria kept coming back to the dictionary definition of “sport” involving physical exertion causing perspiration.

But there was lots of debate. For example, is NASCAR a sport? Does driving a car, albeit fast, constitute real exercise?

How about bass fishing? After all, bass fishing is a sanctioned varsity sport in several states in the Midwest.

Yet the real takeaway from this AM’s discussion was the following: that no matter whether e-gaming is considered a sport or activity or just a pastime, there was true and genuine concern about kids spending hours and hours in front of a computer screen, seemingly addicted to games showing very violent themes. That is, in recent years, the medical association has warned over and over again that kids today need to remain physically fit in order to stave off long-term health issues regarding obesity, diabetes, and other concerns. In short, today’s generation of kids are running a real risk of having all sorts of illnesses, many of which could be prevented if they remained physically fit instead of being hooked on e-games.

IS THERE A SOLUTION?

Everybody pretty much agreed that e-gaming is only beginning to become more and more popular. Even the TV networks have picked up on this trend, and made e-gaming into a major event that generates decent TV ratings.

Because this is a not a temporary fad, parents are growing concerned about their kids who are spending more and more time in front of their computers.

In fact, several callers suggested that parents really need to step up and intervene and just don’t look the other way. No, not to forbid their kids from playing videogames, but to have a serious parent-to-child conversation about the dangers of this activity. Just in the same way that Moms and Dads need to talk with their kids about the inherent dangers about smoking or drugs, parents need to tell kids about the issues of spending too much time in front of the computer.

One caller suggested that parents should mandate that for every hour a kid spends playing a video game, he or she needs to spend at least an hour outside exercising in the fresh air and playing a real sport.

These are interesting suggestions, but one thing is clear. We’re going to hear and hear about e-gaming in the years to come, and it’s going to be incumbent on Moms and Dads to figure out a new way to handle a problem — like concussions — that is not going away.

TRENDS IN SPORTS: Have Video Games Now Become a Real Sport for our Kids?

More About Whether Playing Video Games Is Exercise: The New Johns Hopkins University Study

By Doug Abrams

Constructive dialogue sometimes emerges when, close in time to one another, the media reports a pair of developments that offer contrasting perspectives. For youth sports parents, coaches, and community decision makers, such a pair appeared within a week in early May. The contrasting perspectives carry implications important for public health and for youth well-being.

“Big Dividends”

The first development came from the Global Obesity Prevention Center at Johns Hopkins University. In the journal Health Affairs, the Center published a research study that detailed the harmful effects of childhood physical inactivity for the nation and for children themselves. Led by Dr. Bruce Y. Lee, the Center’s executive director, researchers found that “encouraging exercise and investing in physical activity such as school recess and youth sports leagues when kids are young pay big dividends as they grow up.”

Many of the dividends are financial. Under the headline “Overweight Kids Are Costing America Billions,” USA TODAY summarized key findings from the Johns Hopkins study: “[I]f half of America’s children age 8 through 11 exercised for 25 minutes, three times a week, there would be 340,000 fewer overweight and obese children, saving $21.9 billion in lifetime lost wages and medical bills. If all children followed the same plan, 1.2 million children would avoid becoming obese or overweight, enough to save $62.3 billion.”

For children themselves, regular physical exercise pays dividends by opening the door to healthier lives. The John’s Hopkins researchers cite reduced risks of obesity and associated chronic diseases such as coronary heart disease, diabetes, and cancer throughout adulthood.

Among other recommendations, the research team urges adults to “get your kids to play sports, even if they won’t become stars.”  Dr. Lee and his colleague Dr. Marie Ferguson observe, however, that trends are moving in the wrong direction. Children today spend “too much time on smartphones, computers and television,” coupled with “declining participation in sports.”

E-sports

Early May’s second development came barely a week after the Johns Hopkins research study appeared. The Chicago Tribune carried a thoughtful article by John Keilman under the headline, “Video Gaming: The Next High School Sport? Competitive ESports Gain Traction.” The story was about a video game competition among Chicago-area high schools. Keilman reported that as more and more high schools establish competitive e-sports teams based on fantasy professional leagues, the Illinois High School Association might sanction e-sports as an interscholastic sport sometime soon.

Keilman tested the limits of the video game competition’s analogies. “Did the competitors put in many hours of practice? Yes. Did they possess physical and mental gifts? Affirmative. Was teamwork a crucial ingredient for success? Absolutely.” But one element was missing — “perspiration.” “It’s hard to break a sweat when you’re sitting in a climate-controlled room moving little more than your fingers.”

The 2015 Research Reports 

Last month’s Johns Hopkins study and Chicago Tribune article recall two reports published in June, 2015. In the first report, nearly a quarter of surveyed children between the ages of five and 16 told Britain’s Youth Sports Trust that they consider playing computer games with friends to be physical activity. Among seven- and eight-year-olds, the percentage was nearly a third.

The children said that they play sports or otherwise engage in exercise about 30 to 40 minutes a day (often in mandated school physical education programs), but that they spend nearly three hours a day playing with technology. The Trust predicted that today’s younger generation risks becoming “hostages to handheld devices.”

The second 2015 report, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, estimated that more than two-thirds of Americans over the age of 25 (nearly 75% of men and nearly 67% of women) are now either overweight or obese. For the first time, more American adults are obese than overweight (67.6 million vs. 65.2 million). The percentages are the highest ever, substantially higher than ones reported 20 years earlier.

Meanwhile, National Public Radio estimated that more than a third of American children are overweight or obese, a troublesome number because (as former U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher said in 2001) “adolescents who are overweight are at high risk of becoming overweight or obese adults.”

JAMA researcher Lin Yang told American Health Line that technology has “changed the dynamic of our lifestyle.” As accelerating technological advances contribute to overweight and obesity, Dr. Yang sounded a “wake-up call” for action in “multiple sectors.”

“Increase Team Sport Participation Among All Students”

One of these sectors is community youth sports programs. In 2012, Pediatrics (the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics) featured a study that measured the positive effects on children’s health of various forms of physical exercise. These forms included active commuting to school (such as by walking or biking), regular participation in school physical education classes, and participation in team sports.

Dr. Keith M. Drake and his research team found that active commuting to school has some residual positive effect on a student’s body weight, but that participation in high school physical education classes does not.  But there was more.  The researchers found that “[t]eam sports participation had the strongest and most consistent inverse association with weight status.”  The study estimates that overweight and obesity would “decrease by 11% and 26% respectively, if adolescents played on at least 2 sports teams per year.”

The researchers’ antidote? “Obesity prevention programs should consider strategies to increase team sport participation among all students.”

Good News and Bad News

Taken together, these recent studies demonstrate that inclusive community youth sports programs can enhance the public health by improving children’s lives. But recent accounts, appearing in the Wall Street Journal and elsewhere, suggest that youth sports enrollments appear to be declining in many parts of the nation.

On the positive side of the ledger, an estimated 35 million children — nearly half of all American youngsters — join at least one organized sports program each year.  But on the negative side, about 70% of these youngsters quit playing organized sports by the time they turn 13, and nearly all quit by the time they turn 15.  Indeed, the dropout rate begins accelerating as early as age 10.

A Role for Video Gaming?

In prior columns, I have written about how much work remains to be done before community youth sports systems become all that they can be. Also honing the national dialog about national health needs and youth well-being are such leading voices as my friends Rick Wolff, Bob Bigelow, Positive Coaching Alliance, the Aspen Institute’s Project Play, and the MomsTEAM Institute of Youth Sports Safety.

As work continues on the youth sports front, what role might exist for interscholastic video gaming?  A generation or so ago, competitive television quiz shows such as “It’s Academic” and “The College Bowl” won loyal followings by encouraging excellence from high school and college students. The competitions inspired board games for home play, the closest analogues to what we call interactive media today. No one (in John Keilman’s words) ever “broke a sweat.” For participants and viewers alike, traditional interscholastic sports competition suited many students, but not all students.

In the 21st century, interscholastic sports-based video game competitions may similarly hold promise for students who do not want to play traditional organized sports. Similar to other school-based non-athletic extracurricular activities, these interscholastic competitions may also hold promise for students whose skills do not readily permit such play. Growing numbers of colleges and universities reportedly offer scholarships to accomplished competitive video gamers.

High schools can teach teamwork, dedication, dexterity, and similar skills through extracurricular activities that take place off the playing field. But video gaming, competitive or otherwise, provides no substitute for physical exercise. Whether through organized competitive sports or more informal individual exercise, encouraging lifestyles rich in physical activity remains a public health imperative for children and adolescents who also follow other pursuits.

 

Sources: Modeling the Economic and Health Impact of Increasing Children’s Physical Activity in the United States, Health Affairs, p. 902 (No. 5, 2017); Sean Rossman, Overweight Kids Are Costing America Billions, USA TODAY, May 1, 2007;  Future Foundation, The Class of 2035: Promoting a Brighter and More Active Future For the Youth of Tomorrow; John Keilman Video Gaming: The Next High School Sport? Competitive Esports Gain Traction, Chicago Tribune, May 12, 2017; Bruce Y. Lee & Marie Ferguson, More Physical Activity Among Children Will Save America Billions, STAT (May 2, 2017);  Hannah Richardson, BBC News, Youths Becoming Hostages to Handheld Devices, Says Charity (June 23, 2015); Lin Yang & Graham A. Colditz, Prevalence of Overweight and Obesity in the United States, 2007-2012, JAMA Internal Medicine, June 22, 2015; Am. Health Line, Study: Significant Uptick in Overweight, Obese U.S. Residents, June 23, 2015; U.S. Dep’t of Health and Human Services, The Surgeon General’s Call To Action To Prevent and Decrease Overweight and Obesity (2001); National Public Radio, Morning Edition, Childhood Obesity (July 1, 2015); Keith M. Drake et al., Influence of Sports, Physical Education, and Active Commuting to School on Adolescent Weight Status, Pediatrics, vol. 130, p. e296 (Aug. 2012); HealthDayNews, Increased Physical Activity  For Children May Save Billions, Study Says (May 2, 2017); Mike Brennan, LTU Offers $600,000 in Scholarships to Video Gamers, https://mitechnews.com/steam/ltu-offers-600000-scholarships-video-gamers/  (May 23, 2017).

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 PlayBall.org) 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.

CAN THIS TREND BE REVERSED?

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.