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 www.CoachDan.com. 

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.

MAKE TODAY MEAN SOMETHING!

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.

WHAT’S THE TOUGHEST SPORT?

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 THE BOTTOM LINE STILL RULES

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

NEW YORK PUBLIC HIGH SCHOOL PITCH COUNT RULES TO GO INTO EFFECT THIS SEASON

                                                    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 baseballamerica.com 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.

NEW YORK STATE PITCHING RULES FOR THE 2017 SEASON

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.

THE ACTUAL RULES

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.

WHERE DID THE SUGGESTED PITCH COUNTS AND DAYS OF REST COME FROM?

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 (mlb.com/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.

BUT THAT’S JUST NOT THE CASE

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).

BUT, WAIT, THERE’S MORE

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.

ARE PITCH COUNTS NECESSARY?

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.

WHAT’S A PARENT TO DO?

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 mlb.com/pitchsmart/pitching-guidelines.  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.

ONE ADDITIONAL ISSUE

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.

CONCLUSION

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.

© COPYRIGHT 2017 BY STEVE KALLAS ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

 

 

 

SPORTS PSYCHOLOGY SECRETS: Are Cell Phones a Blessing or Curse?

Dr. Jarrod Spencer, a sports psychologist who runs Mind of the Athlete in Bethlehem, PA, had an interesting observation on my radio show this AM.

When I asked him what, in his opinion, was the most pressing concern in the world of sports parenting in terms of sports psychology, he surprised me when he said that he felt it was the growing reality that too many young athletes seem to be addicted to their cell phones, so much so that when they go to bed a night, they can’t seem to be able to put the phone down and get some sleep.

As a result, by staying awake to all hours of the night tracking social media, these youngsters don’t get enough needed rest, and that has a serious carryover effect into their next day at school and in practice and in games. Dr. Spencer feels that this is a growing epidemic, and the reason why so few parents are able to intervene with their kids is because the parents themselves are doing the same thing!

One or two callers agreed with Jerrod – that indeed kids seem to be addicted to cell phones in much the same way as a generation ago, people were addicted to cigarettes. And of course, both addictions are not healthy.

Jarrod felt that the only way to counteract this problem was for schools, coaches, and parents to educate kids today about this issue, and if nothing else, get them to understand what kinds of negative impact this addiction can have on their academics and athletic performance.

A DIFFERENT SPIN

I had mentioned along the way that some college coaches actually prohibit their athletes from using their cell phones during the season, mainly because they don’t want their athletes to make any embarrassing mistakes on Twitter. I know Geno Auriemma at UConn hoops limits his players from using cellphones during the winter season. Other coaches do the same thing.

But I was not aware that kids and cell phone usage late at night was becoming so disruptive.

I did point out that perhaps today’s young athletes use their cell phones as a way to break the constant and grinding pressure that comes from playing on a highly competitive schedule in sports – -that kids look upon cell phones as toys, or as a way to break away from the growing expectations in sports.

Indeed, the more I reflect on that, the more I think that theory might make sense. By the time a young athlete is in HS, playing a competitive sport can often become totally consuming and overwhelming, both in terms of the time commitment as well as the constant pressure to keep succeeding and to win. By the time the kid gets home and is ready for bed, playing on one’s cell phone offers a much wanted emotional break from the rigors of sport.

As noted, it’s an interesting observation and theory.

TRENDS IN SPORTS: The Two Fundamental Keys to Athletic Success

I tell ambitious sports parents all the time that in order for their child to become a top professional athlete, they need only two ingredients:

God-given talent, and a superior drive to compete.

While that may sound overly simplistic, the truth is, in my experience in sports, you can often find a youngster who has the drive and passion to succeed, but sadly doesn’t have the size or speed or talent.

Likewise, there are lots of highly gifted athletes who just don’t seem to care that much about taking advantage of their ability. That is, they’re just happy to play their sport and let their God-given ability take them as far as they can, but without putting forth any extra effort.

Think I’m wrong? Consider superstar athletes like Michael Jordan, who could jump over the moon and even in his 50s, he’s still known as a fierce competitor who hates to lose. He’s typical of those rare, great athletes who burn with a competitive drive AND were born with great skills.

I mention all this because I was reading in Sports Illustrated the other day about a HS kid who hails from Australia. A newcomer to American football, Daniel Faalele is one imposing young man, standing 6’9 and weighing a rock-solid 400 pounds. No, I’m not making that up. Think Tim Tebow, only even bigger (a lot bigger) and on steroids.

Sensing that he may have a future in college football and the NFL, Faalele left Australia and is now attending the IMG Academy in Florida which has become a major breeding ground for Division 1 football prospects. By all accounts, now only is this young man physically imposing and strong, but he also has quick feet. And thanks to growing up in Australia where he played rugby, he also loves hitting people.

True, Faalele is just learning the basics of football, including blocking and tackling. But if he has the inner drive and determination to succeed, it’s pretty clear that he has that God-given physical ability. Only time will tell how far he will go.

And in the meantime, if he doesn’t have what it takes at 6’9, 400 pounds, maybe his little brother Taylor. He’s already 6 feet tall and 260 pounds…and he’s only 11.

TRAVEL TEAMS: Sports Parents Need to Have the Courage to Speak Up and to Ask the Tough Questions

I continue to receive lots of queries and questions regarding issues with travel teams, or as they’re sometimes called by different names, such as elite, premier, or just club teams.

But no matter what they are called, they all basically work from the same premise: that they offer a higher level of competition for your son or daughter, and in exchange for this opportunity, your youngster has to first try out. If he or she makes the team, then there’s usually a substantial fee to be on the squad.

These days, the vast majority of Moms and Dads understand how this system works, and at the local, grassroots level, when kids are as young as 6 or 7, the parents are often eager to have their little athlete try out and be selected for that local travel team.

Obviously, making a travel team is often viewed as being prestigious; indeed, it’s become something of a status  symbol in one’s community that my kid has been deemed or viewed as a talented athlete – someone who is well above the average.

And from the parent’s perspective, sure, the travel program — no matter what sport it may be – is going to cost a lot more than being on the local rec sports program. But for the parent who dreams about college scholarships for their kid, it’s certainly well worth it.

But it’s then usually two or three years later, when the travel program begins to ratchet up the intensity, that the sports parents begin to worry and quietly begin to wonder if this was the right move for their child.

That is, questions begin to rise regarding a child’s playing time…or playing a preferred position….or whether actual instruction of skills is the top priority – especially at the younger ages – or is the travel team coach all about winning all the time? After all, by this point, the parents now realize that with practices being held three a times a week, and usually two games on the weekend, this is becoming something of a part-time job.

And invariably, there are also questions about a kid’s commitment to the program. Specifically, what’s the team’s policy about missing a practice or two? Or about even missing a game? If the travel team goes from Labor Day to Easter, this is getting to be serious in terms of time and money.

By the way, as noted, it makes no difference what the sport is…soccer, baseball, softball, basketball, ice hockey, lax, you name it…if it’s a travel program, then you first need to understand the basics of how these programs function and operate.

Because so many parents tend to be naïve about these matters, especially if it’s their first time through the process as a sports parent, let me start with the basics.

A QUICK PRIMER

In short….a rec program – short for recreation – is usually run by one’s local town or community or neighborhood. All kids are allowed and invited to participate, regardless of their level of talent or ability or commitment. These rec programs may carry a small fee to register, or in some cases, they are free. Regardless, there’s usually a program person who oversees the workouts and games. There is usually some instruction on the skills needed to play the sport.

But overall, rec programs are low key. Generally, there’s no travel involved, but if there is, it’s a very short ride to a neighboring town or two. All kids get lots of playing time, and in many ways, rec programs are close to what old neighborhood pick-up games used to be; that is, neighborhood kids playing sports with their friends in a low-key environment.

The next step after rec programs are organized teams. Now, these are often run by nationally-known youth programs, like AYSO (American Youth Soccer Organization) or Little League baseball. And at the youth levels, these teams are open to anyone who signs up and pays a fee. All kids who sign up make a team, get a uniform, and there are usually some rules on minimum playing time.

Bear in mind that, with programs like LL Baseball, at the end of the regular season, the league coaches will get together and will select an All-Star team. And that All-Star team of the best players will form the squad that will go on and compete in the LL playoffs in order to get to Williamsport.

In other words, by the time your child is 9 or 10 or 11, if he or she wants to compete at a higher level – meaning on a travel team….this is where the stakes start to get higher….and where parents start to wonder whether this makes sense, and whether their faith in the coaches and travel program is warranted.

UNLIKE MIDDLE SCHOOL TEAMS OR HIGH SCHOOL PROGRAMS — where the coaches work for the school district and not for themselves —  and there’s no fee to try out for a school team, or to be on the team…TRAVEL TEAMS are totally independent and have nothing to do with SCHOOL DISTRICTS. They are run strictly for profit as money-making ventures for the organizers and the coaches. They can set and charge any fee they want. They do not report to any state or federal body. In short, they can do pretty much whatever they want. And that’s where unexpected issues can pop up which affect your child.

For example, if the Dad who runs a travel program decides that he wants to have his son on the team, as well as some of his son’s friends team on the team, they can certainly do that – and they don’t have to tell you why. That happens a lot with travel programs, and the other parents are not often informed.

Because of these kinds of unexpected developments, parents need to have the courage to ask tough questions before you pay your money.Why? Because if things go sideways during the season, and unfortunately, they can, you need to know there’s not much you can do in terms of making an appeal. It’s really a situation of caveat emptor.

WHAT I LEARNED AS A SPORTS PARENT

As most of you know, I’m a sports parent, and over the years, I learned many of these lessons about travel teams the hard way myself:

—-I can recall my youngest daughter going through AAU tryouts for basketball with dozens of other girls, and my having the very distinct sense that the coaches had already pre-selected the team, and were now just looking to see if there were anybody else they may have missed. In other words, all the kids who were trying out and paid their money and were hopeful to make the team. But the team was already pretty much selected ahead of time.

— I can recall my son being told by a veteran hockey coach that he couldn’t play on both a travel hockey team and his HS hockey team at the same time because that was against NYS rules. My son was devastated. But a couple years later, I found out that there is no such rule in NYS because NYS schools don’t have any jurisdiction over travel hockey.

— I can recall another travel soccer program for one of my daughters where she was thrilled to make the team, but then disheartened to discover there were a total of 24 girls on the squad, which meant that playing time was going to be an issue. And the coach – who was such a wonderful and easy going guy during tryouts – turned out to be an intimidating yeller and screamer at the girls during the games. Not good.

You get the idea…

 

These are essential questions that all parents of travel team kids need to know…and this includes ALL travel programs….including AAU baseball and basketball, USA ice hockey, AYSO soccer, US Soccer Academy, Cal Ripken Baseball, LL Baseball and quite frankly, any kind of travel program where your child has to try out and if he or she makes the team, you have to pay a fee to be on the team.

By the way, when your kid makes a travel team and you note on the schedule that there are games several hours away by car which involves a lot of overnight stays, meals, and gas, understand that the travel team DOES NOT pick up those extra costs….you do!

Now, I just want to make this clear: I AM NOT trying to put down ALL travel teams programs. The truth is, there are many travel programs where the coaches are all about the kids, offer great instruction, and are very understanding of the parents’ concerns.

But unfortunately, there are lots of others which are all about simply winning AND making money.

In sum, some of the basic issues you as a parent need to be aware of include, and need to check on ahead of time:

PLAYING TIME….if my kid makes the travel team, how much actual playing time will he or she get?

WHAT IS THE TEAM’S TOP PRIORITY….are the coaches all about winning every game? Or is there a sense that real instruction and even having fun is in the mix? Too many coaches will tell you that the instruction is only done at practice…and that kids only have fun when the team wins.

WHAT ABOUT MISSING AN OCCASIONAL PRACTICE OR A GAME? This will probably fall on deaf ears. Travel coaches don’t want to hear about your kid needing to miss a practice because he’s got a big math test the next day. Nor do they care that there’s a cousin in your family getting married on the weekend, and your kid needs to miss a game.

When travel coaches start hearing stuff like this, they will tell you that the consequence is that if your kid misses practices or games, that will probably have a real impact on their playing time. Why? Because all the other kids on the team are not missing practices or games, and thus should garner more playing time.

WHAT IS THE COACH LIKE DURING GAMES? In short, is he a firebrand? A yeller and screamer? Better find out because of kids hate playing for coaches who breathe fire during the games.

IS THE COACH ACCESSIBLE? Meaning is he or she available to be contacted during the week in case there’s an issue or concern? Sounds obvious….but you need to find out.

Again, much of this advice is for those sports parents who have never encountered travel teams before. But even if you’re a veteran of these wars, always keep in mind that, at the end of the day, it’s the parents who are paying for these travel programs.

REFLECTIONS: A Breath of Fresh Air When Kids Lead the Way…..

The Last Shot: High School Basketball Pride in the Heartland

By Doug Abrams

In the past few weeks, headlines have carried stories about disturbing conduct by high school sports fans. The Herald-Standard reported, for example, that throughout a basketball game in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, some students in the stands chanted “Build that wall! Get them out of here!” and other racial slurs at opposing African American players.

The Mendham-Chester Patch reported that similar student chants, leveled at black and Hispanic opponents, marred a high school basketball game in suburban New Jersey. The Huffington Post reported that a Missouri public school superintendent publicly apologized after students in the stands collectively turned their backs on opposing high school basketball players during pre-game introductions, apparently a school tradition that no one had ever questioned.

“Everyone Will Remember”

Students refreshingly bucked this descent in Nebraska late last month at a basketball game between Columbus High School and Kearney High School. Kearney held an 11-point lead with less than 30 seconds remaining on the clock. Both teams’ fans began enthusiastically chanting, “We want Kyle! We want Kyle.”

Kyle Anderson, the team’s manager, had suited up for his first game and had yet to see action. The popular senior was no ordinary substitute. WOWT 6 News reported that ever since being diagnosed with a rare form of bone cancer five years ago, the Eagle Scout and former Homecoming King has undergone several chemotherapy treatments and surgeries. He volunteered as manager when his condition kept him from trying out for the team.

Columbus’ coach put Kyle in the game according to plan, and the manager responded by hitting a layup in the final seconds. The Columbus Telegram described the drama: “No one will remember the final score; everyone will remember Anderson’s layup.”

Columbus High School will move into a new building next year, so the Kearney matchup was the final regular season basketball game played in the nearly 60-year-old gymnasium. Kyle’s layup was Columbus’ last varsity basket scored in the gym, a proud climax for both teams’ students whose resounding cheers saluted the manager as the game ended.

People Are Always Watching

Leading national voices promote sportsmanship and respect as hallmarks of vigorous high school athletic competition. In some high visibility sports today, however, fans’ trash talking, taunting, and rowdiness sometimes eclipse these core values.

The Peoria (Ill.) Journal Star offers this healthy perspective for students in the stands who feel tempted to stray from partisanship to vulgarity: “People are always watching everything you do, so respect visitors, guests, and the people you represent . . . with your actions. After all, high school sports are about bringing a community together to support the students and one another.”

Before the curtain closed on nearly six decades of tipoffs in Columbus High School’s gymnasium, the final act pointed in the right direction.

 

Sources: Alyssa Choiniere, Parents Say Uniontown Players Targets of Racial Comments at Connellville Game, Herald-Standard (Uniontown, Pa.), Feb. 10, 2017;  Katie Kausch, ‘Build The Wall’ Chants Cause Controversy At NJ Basketball Game, Mendham-Chester (N.J.) Patch, Jan. 31, 2017; Aaron Ferguson, Hoops Fan’s Heckling Was Embarrassing and Disrespectful, Journal Star (Peoria, Ill.), Dec. 8, 2016; Ed Mazza, White Students Hold ‘Trump’ Sign, Turn Backs On Black Basketball Team, Huffington Post, Dec. 14, 2016; Brandon Scott, During His H.S. Basketball Debut, the Crowd Goes Wild For a Columbus Teen Fighting Cancer,  http://www.wowt.com/content/news/The-crowd-goes-wild-for-a-Columbus-teen-fighting-cancer-during-his-HS-basketball-debut-414828033.html (Feb. 26, 2017); Kollin Miller, Anderson Steals Show in Final Home Game, http://columbustelegram.com/sports/high-school/anderson-steals-show-in-final-home-game/article_e0545408-281d-515e-8c43-7607cdb553d1.html (Feb. 17, 2017).

PITCH COUNTS: A Few More Thoughts on this Topic…

As has been outlined by the National Federation of High Schools, starting this spring every state in the country will have set up and put into place various pitch limits for all public high schools at the varsity, junior varsity, freshmen, and modified levels.

The idea, of course, is to ideally prevent teenagers from ruining their arms from overpitching and subsequent serious Tommy John injuries.

So far, this all sounds good. But the more I reflected on this move, and the more I discussed it with my colleague Steve Kallas, the more I did a 180. Specifically:

Is it even possible that there’s a HS baseball coach anywhere in this country who doesn’t know about the concerns of injuring a kid’s arm from having him throw too many pitches? I mean, pitch counts have been in the news for well over a decade now. And if you’re a varsity baseball coach, and aren’t aware of these concerns, I would suggest that you probably aren’t a good candidate to coach baseball.

Moving on, why are individual states being allowed to come up with their rules on pitch limits? That is, if you don’t know this yet, every state has its own regulations regarding pitch limits, how many days of rest are mandated, how many pitches can be added to the overall game total in playoff games, and what the punishments are for violating these rules.

Even worse, not only are these pitch count rules hard to follow, but they differ substantially from one neighboring state to the next.

And there’s no probationary time. That is, these rules are in force for this season, and in some southern states where the games are already being played, there are already concerns about implementation and monitoring pitch counts. Among other concerns, if a coach is found in violation of the pitch limits, the punishments range from having the game forfeit, to the coach being suspended and fined for his actions.

ARE THESE REALLY NEEDED?

I have three suggestions:

Why not make the 2017 season just a probationary, experimental season where these pitch count rules can be put in place, but only on a trial basis? Let’s see how they work in real game situations, and then after the season is over in June, the state boards can determine what worked, and what didn’t, and then make corrections.

In addition, why have the rules vary from state to state? Just come out with one universal standard set of rules for everyone. That’s just common sense. I’m not sure why the individual states need to have their own rules.

And finally, do we even need these pitch counts in the first place? If you have an experienced HS baseball coach, then he should already be more than familiar with making sure that his ace pitcher doesn’t ruin his arm by throwing too many innings, or is being used too many times. And if the coach doesn’t know these parameters, or is too hell-bent on winning a league championship, even if it means risking his top pitcher’s arm, well, it’s up to the kid’s parents to step and intervene. But again, I would find it very hard to believe that there’s a HS pitcher these days who isn’t aware of the risks of having a HS kid throw too much.

Bottom line? Pitch counts may be a good idea, and every coach needs to be aware of them. But enforcing them in a hard-and-fast way seems too much too soon.

GUEST COLUMNIST: The Essential Value of Positive Self-Esteem in Sports

Editor’s note: As you might imagine, I receive a great deal of email from readers and sports parents from all over. And occasionally, I read something that is so spot on this topic that I feel compelled to post it and share it. Rick Wolff

For the Love of Kids

by Christopher M. Meuse

The purpose of the following article is to express my beliefs related to the importance and value of promoting the development of positive self-esteem in children at home, in schools, through sports and in every walk of life.  I will attempt to show the significance of positive coaching and parenting in developing happy, confident, successful and fulfilled individuals who are capable of reaching higher levels of human potential.

I recently published the book, “Hockey, Kids & Positive Coaching”, an inspiring story about a young boy whose love for the game of hockey is affected by the pressures placed on him by the adults in his life. It demonstrates the value of love and how a child’s growth and development are enhanced when guided by people who are more concerned about feelings of self-worth than numbers on a scoreboard. The story illustrates that the journey to true peak performance in life is eased through guidance and education that go beyond skills. A quality education which is focused on issues of self-worth will help to create the healthy conditions necessary for children to reach their greatest potential.

There are many theories and techniques that can be used to teach, coach and educate children. Some include strict discipline, tough love, the promotion of aggressive behavior, acceptance and love, or a combination of all of these methods. The value of developing a strong sense of self-worth, or self-esteem, in a child cannot be over-   emphasized. The application of principled behaviors supported by empathetic listening, understanding and compassion can help parents achieve greater positive results when guiding their children on their journey through life is emphasized in this article through excerpts from the book.

I was motivated to write “Hockey, Kids & Positive Coaching” by  negative behavior that I witnessed being displayed in arenas where children play hockey – behavior which adults probably used with a positive intent, but which often negatively resulted in diminished peak performance. The joy of playing the game was also greatly decreased for all involved.  Negative comments and criticisms children experience – not only in sports, but in their lifetime – can be extremely disempowering and often lead to the formation of blocks or barriers to learning and performance.

It has been scientifically proven that negative thoughts and comments result in decreased strength and performance. I have witnessed very talented players become totally confused and disorientated on the ice after being yelled at by adults. The players were then further criticized after the game for their poor performance, the adults not realizing how their conduct actually contributed to the players’ poor performance. We cannot empower children to do their best through negativity, whether in sports, at home, in school, or society in general. This belief is demonstrated through the story and experiences of the book’s central character, Michael.

Several years ago I was listening to an interview with the renowned basketball coach, John Wooden.  He exhibited many great character qualities as a coach, but also as a father, husband, and educator. The host introduced him as “a coach of love” who cared more about his players as individuals than he did about them as basketball players. Apparently, at the time of the interview, Wooden’s teams won more consecutive games and conferences than any other team in U.S. basketball history — an amazing result from a coach of love, who apparently never used the word “win” in the dressing room. Why? His explanation seemed to suggest that on a mind/brain (or neurological & psychological) level, a player can only perform at the highest level when focusing all of his/her energy on his/her own performance. He believed that any percentage of energy that is used to focus on the thought of winning, or on scoreboards, or referees, etc. is energy removed from one’s ability to play at one’s best. Therefore, Wooden emphasized intrinsic motivation focused on one’s desire to play his\her best. Yes, his players practiced hard and played hard, but the enjoyment aspect of the game was always emphasized. He never wanted playing basketball to be a chore. The players’ challenge was with themselves. If they played their best than they were winners, despite what the scoreboard indicated.  Obviously, Wooden’s record is a valid indication that his players usually played their best.

When young children are expected to play like pros, and are criticized for making mistakes, the results are seldom positive. The game becomes work and the “play” and fun aspects are lost far too early. As Joseph Chilton Pearce writes in his excellent book, “Magical Child”: “through the function of play, the work takes place, and creativity unfolds … play is the only way the highest intelligence of mankind can unfold.”

I cannot over-emphasize the importance of being sincere in conversation with our children; positive reinforcement must be more than idle words. There is great value in not merely using positive words in an attempt to manipulate children so that they will perform in a way that adults believe they should. It is important to be positive and compassionate simply because this is what children need and deserve. In the end, children and adults will have greater respect for each other while achieving greater levels of excellence.

The excerpts contained in this article are explained in much greater detail in my book: “Hockey, Kids & Positive Coaching”. Detailed information and reviews related to the book can be found on the following Blog & Website: http://lofeexpublishing.blogspot.ca/

https://www.chapters.indigo.ca/en-ca/home/search/?keywords=christopher%20meuse

PITCH COUNTS: Brand New Pitch Limits Start This Spring All Over the Country: Be Forewarned!

PUBLIC HIGH SCHOOL PITCH COUNTS TO GO INTO EFFECT THIS SEASON

By Steve Kallas

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 made up its own rules and, while well-intentioned, there are already issues depending on the state.

THE HISTORY OF LITTLE LEAGUE PITCH COUNTS

For those who have listened for years to Rick Wolff’s “The Sports Edge” show over the years (Sunday mornings at 8 on WFAN radio and wfan.com), you will remember that a similar issue came up with Little League Baseball about ten years ago when they instituted a pitch count based, allegedly, on the work of Dr. James Andrews, the foremost authority in the world on young pitchers and protecting their arms.

Back then, as now for high schools, Dr. Andrews suggested pitch count ranges along with proscribed days of rest to help protect young arms.  Little League adopted the pitch counts but, without telling Dr. Andrews, lowered the days of rest for pitchers who threw 85 pitches from four days (the Andrews’ suggestion) to just three days (for the regular LL season) and then to an incredible just two days of rest (for the Williamsport tournament).

While literally thousands of articles were written at that time praising Little League for its “innovative” pitch limits, Rick Wolff and I wrote two articles strongly criticizing the days-of-rest change, which legally allowed 12-year-olds to throw more pitches (260) in a nine-day span than virtually every major league pitcher. One youngster, Kyle Cotcamp, actually threw 267 pitches over a nine-day period in the LL World Series in Williamsport in 2007. He underwent Tommy John surgery just a few years later. During that same LL World Series, three other kids threw at least 230 pitches in seven days.

After several years passed, it took interviews with Little League President Steve Keener and Dr. Andrews (who was finally told of the change in the change of days of rest) to eventually have Little League “correct” its mistake.

NOW FROM LITTLE LEAGUE TO HIGH SCHOOLS

The NFHS has instituted the pitch count rules to begin in the 2017 season, but has left it up to each individual state to set their own rules.  We will focus on New York, New Jersey and Connecticut to point out the rules and their unique differences.  It is disappointing to note that, while Dr. Andrews recommends that a 17-18 year old pitcher should have four full days of rest if he throws more that 81 pitches in a game, none of the above states will implementing that approach. 

NEW YORK STATE

The New York State pitch count rules are probably the most troubling.  That’s because, as with Little League many years ago, New York has changed the days of rest.  How are they doing that?  By saying that, when a pitcher pitches on a Tuesday afternoon, Tuesday night (as opposed to Wednesday) is his first “day of rest” (or, more appropriately, “night of rest”).

Thus, for example, under the New York new varsity pitch count rules, a pitcher who throws between 96 and 105 pitches needs four days of rest.  So a pitcher who throws 105 pitches on Monday, under the (until now) way everybody else in baseball considers days of rest, the youngster could not pitch again until Saturday (with Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday as his four days of rest).

However, under the New York definition, according to Ed Dopp, the New York State baseball chairman, Monday night (in the above example), and NOT Tuesday, is the first “night of rest.”  So therefore, the pitcher who throws 105 pitches on Monday can pitch again on Friday, not wait until Saturday (as all major league pitchers would).  (For an excellent article on the New York days of rest issue, see Vincent Mercogliano’s article at lohud.com on January 27,2017.)

Thus, New York pitchers can throw more pitches in a five-day span than any major leaguer will (barring the extreme rarity of an MLB pitcher pitching on three days of rest during crunch time, usually late in the season or in the playoffs).

By definition, that New York rule is a bad rule.

Here are the varsity numbers in New York: 1-30 pitches, 1 day of rest; 31-65 pitches, 2 days of rest; 66-95 pitches, 3 days of rest; 96-105 pitches, 4 days of rest.

But understand that, in New York, if a pitcher throws 30 pitches on Monday, he can then pitch on Tuesday (because of the new “night of rest“ rule – that is, Monday night is the one day of rest).  If a pitcher throws 65 pitches on Monday, he can pitch again on Wednesday (yes, that’s two days of rest).  If he throws 95 pitches on Monday, he can pitch again on Thursday (again, outrageous.  No major leaguer would pitch again until Saturday).

If the purpose is to try and protect kids’ arms, this is scary stuff.

Furthermore, in New York, once the HS playoffs start, the top limit is moved from 105 pitches to 125 pitches.  Why?  So coaches can ride their top pitcher 20 pitches more?  In a much more (generally-speaking) tense game?  With much more at stake?

This all seem certainly seems counter-intuitive.

One final New York note:  the NFHS does not govern New York City; the Public School Athletic League (“PSAL”) does (for public schools).  The PSAL has had pitch count rules in effect since 2011.  As far as I can tell, the PSAL counts days of rest the way the rest of the world does; for example, if a public school pitcher in New York City throws 91 to 105 pitches on Monday (105 being the limit), that pitcher needs four full days of rest and cannot pitch again until Saturday.

NEW JERSEY

Of the three states discussed here (for a complete list, see the article in baseballamerica.com by J.J. Cooper from February 10, 2017), New Jersey has done the best job but still falls short compared to the Dr. Andrews recommendations.

Here are the varsity numbers in New Jersey:  1-30 pitches, 0 days of rest; 31-50 pitches, 1 day of rest; 51-70 pitches, 2 days of rest; 71-90 pitches, 3 days of rest; 91-110 pitches, 4 days of rest.  Keep in mind that New Jersey counts days of rest the way everybody does; that is, if you throw 110 pitches on Monday, you can’t pitch again until Saturday.

But New Jersey has added some additional rules that can only be viewed as positive for young pitchers.  For example, a pitcher cannot pitch on three consecutive days, even if he only throws less than 30 pitches the first two days.  In addition, a pitcher who pitches on consecutive days cannot throw more than 50 pitches (so if he throws 30 pitches on Monday, he can only throw 20 the next day).

CONNECTICUT

The strangest part of the new Connecticut pitch count rule is the fact that there appears to be no upward limit.  That is, based on the rules as currently written, it seems a pitcher can throw 110, 130, 150 or even more in one day.  While common sense would dictate that this won’t happen, you never know if you have a coach in an extra-inning playoff game or a coach who wants to win at all costs or a coach (very rare) who really doesn’t look out for a pitcher’s best interests.

Here are the varsity numbers in Connecticut: 1-25, 0 days of rest; 26-50, 1 day of rest; 51-75, 2 days of rest; 76-110, 3 days of rest; more than 110 pitches (with no limit), 5 days of rest.

Connecticut is troubling for two reasons: the lack of a top limit, discussed above, and the fact that a pitcher can throw 110 pitches on Monday and pitch again on Friday (again, no regular major league starter would pitch again until Saturday).

PARENTS BEWARE!

While the overwhelming majority of HS 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 the coaches correctly point out that these state 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 or major league scouts).

While a good point, 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 well-qualified travel coaches, you probably should not let your child pitch on two teams at once; if you do, than it is up to you – the parent and not the coach —  to regulate your son’s 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 you do, keep your own 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 a showcase.  Or, don’t go to a showcase at all (which admittedly would be tough under today’s system).

I would strongly suggest that you follow the pitching guidelines for pitches AND days of rest set forth at pitchsmart/pitching/guidelines.  These have recommendations for all ages.  If you can adhere to these recommendations (or, at least, get close to them if they don’t seem realistic to you), 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.

ONE ADDITIONAL ISSUE FOR ALL STATES

The obvious issue is: who’s going to count the pitches?  The new rules talk about having each side count the pitches and check with the other side after each half-inning.  If there is a discrepancy, the home team’s pitch 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 (again) overwhelming majority of situations, it won’t.  But, mistakes are made and, on (rare) occasions, someone may try to get the upper hand.

New Jersey has an additional rule that states that the home team has to provide an “independent adult” pitch counter, but, if they can’t, the home team’s count is the official count unless the umpire has “definite knowledge” that the count is wrong.  High school umps (and there are often only two per game) have more than enough on their plate to have “definite knowledge” of a pitcher’s pitch count.

Connecticut states that the pitch counter does not have to be an adult.  Well, again, mistakes can and will be made, especially if the pitch counter happens to a younger HS student who is just volunteering to help out.

Also, 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)?  Is a game forfeit 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 a game, is considered.

The latter rule seems more reasonable.

CONCLUSION

While well-meaning, the various rules from the various states can (and will) lead to issues.  While these new rules are an improvement on the past (believe it or not, the prior rule in New York State allowed a pitcher to pitch a maximum of 12 innings (yes, 12) per day and no more than 18 innings in a six-day period), they have to be carefully monitored and looked at during this season and changed when necessary (like the strange definition of days of rest in New York).

Obviously, the strange definition of days of rest in New York should be fixed immediately and the pitch count counters in all states 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 and his arm.

© COPYRIGHT 2017 BY STEVE KALLAS ALL RIGHTS RESERVED