Category Archives: Coach Mike’s Blog

Coach Mike’s take on the youth sports world.

Have You Tried It Lately?

Did you see that Alabama-Minnesota softball game?

If you didn’t here’s a link.

http://www.espn.com/espnw/sports/article/19424942/2017-ncaa-softball-tournament-tough-breaks-continue-minnesota-golden-gophers-regional-loss-alabama-crimson-tide

Was that a strike or what?  How did that umpire miss that call?

I’ve seen a number of posts about bad calls throughout the playoffs so far.  The comments range from benign to extreme.  But guess what?  The comments you hear are the same comments you hear every year in various sports.  On every close call (or even many not-so-close calls) there is going to be someone who agrees and someone who disagrees.  It’s part of the game.

Have you ever tried being an umpire?  I used to umpire slow pitch softball.  That has to be easy.   If the ball hits the mat it’s a strike. How much easier can it be?  I can tell you there were times where the ball came down right by the edge of that mat and it is not always so easy.  But you have to make a call.  I especially laugh at fans at a major-league baseball game who complain about a close call on balls and strikes.  The fans are a minimum of 40 feet away and at various angles.  The umpire is right behind the catcher.  As a softball coach I often can tell with fairly good accuracy, on balls and strikes from the dugout or coach’s box.  But sometimes I can be off.  But here’s the bigger issue.

Why do we let our players, or ourselves, blame the umpires, or anyone else for that matter, for our shortcomings?  I learned two things a long time ago:  First, one call never wins or loses a game, and second, without respect for authority we might not have a game.

I’ve never had much of a problem with the second issue.  I’ve never been tossed from any game I’ve coached or played in in any sport.  I did get tossed once as a scorekeeper but I was falsely blamed for something another parents said.  (The other parent apologized to me after the game.  It wasn’t a big deal.  The ump was a real old guy having a tough time with both teams).  The first lesson was well spoken at a coach’s clinic I attended.  I forget the first coach that said this (there have been many over the years), but the lesson is the same.  Why did you allow yourself to be in the position where one call could change the course of the game?

Let’s look at the Alabama-Minnesota game.

  1.  Why were the bases loaded?  If the bases weren’t loaded that walk wouldn’t have mattered.  Get the next batter out.
  2. Why didn’t your team score more runs?  If you are ahead that run would not beat you.  Worse case is it could only tie you.

Nobody likes mistakes, especially in the bottom of the last inning of a close game.  But if you think that umpire has it easy, check out this episode of Sports Science:

Still want to ump?

I’m sure a lot of people feel bad for Minnesota.  They had a great season and I’ll bet they’ll be back next year.  It’s easy to root against the big dog but let’s face it, Alabama is a great program.  In all the hype and commotion, let’s try to remember what we teach our players and our children:

  1.  Don’t blame someone else (i.e. umpires) for your failures.

Teach first, win later.

Coach Mike

 

What Lessons Have We Taught Our Children?

Its Deeper Than We Think…..

Integrity over Glory

Righteousness over Recognition

As I look back on my life, I recognize that the lessons I was taught from a young age focused on personal value, not their inventory.  It was better to be honest than to be rich.  Your word was your bond.  Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country….

Sound familiar?

But as we look around almost anywhere today, over and over again we see “ME, ME, ME, ME!”

“I deserve this…”

“I have a right to do this…”

Even in a fine public service and educational arena like Toastmasters, we are told that our audience wants to know about WIIFM, “What’s in it for me?”

I see a battle of words on social media about naming a facility.  Should it be named for one person, or should it carry the city name instead and offer another way of recognizing the individuals?  One person asked if there weren’t other individuals past, present, or future who also deserve recognition.

Have we forgotten to ask, “What can I do for you?”

“How can I make your day better?”

“How can I bless you today?”

As I look over the CIF and NCAA softball brackets that came out today, I am reminded that while there are a limited number of teams that get to taste glory in their various playoffs, how many other teams also worked hard trying to compete.  How many other players deserve recognition for their efforts and achievements?”

But I thought it was about the journey, not the destination.

Do we still try to teach our children true values or do we let them fall into the trap of STUFF?  Perhaps we have already fallen into the trap of STUFF and are reflecting that on our children, despite what our words say.

So, while we are still demanding our participation trophies, (and even if we talk against those, if our child doesn’t get some trophy do we complain about something not being fair?”) while we still cry “ME, ME, ME… or “MY KID, MY KID, MY KID…”  maybe we should take a lesson from one of the most storied, most successful franchises in all of sports, the New York Yankees.

Last night I watched the ceremonies honoring Derek Jeter, another of many great Yankee players.  His number was retired.  He received a plaque honoring him in monument valley among other great players like Ruth, Gehrig, and DiMaggio.  Yet despite all the glory, notice that they didn’t rename the stadium, Jeter Stadium.

It is still Yankee Stadium.  Jeter is a part of the Yankee family, the Yankee team.  The plaque in monument valley is one of many other TEAM players.  The retired number on the wall is one of many other TEAM players.  To this day, the Yankees continue their long-time tradition that no player has their name on the back of their uniforms.  This is to remind them that they are part of a team, they are Yankees.  The team is great because they are a team.

Derek Jeter is honored not because he has had the most hits, home runs, stolen bases, or any other single statistic over other players, because he doesn’t.  He wasn’t the best in any one category.  What Derek Jeter was truly honored for, what made Derek Jeter the star that he is, was not pointing the finger at himself for all these years.  It was putting his arms around his teammates.  It was the way he played the game, always giving 100%, always putting his team first.  He received the highest honor, being labeled “The Captain” not because how well he played but because of how well he led his teammates.  In over 100 years, there have only been 15 players who have been given the honor of being called Captain of the Yankees.  The position is vacant now since Jeter retired.  Unlike our youth and high school teams, the coach doesn’t just appoint a captain every year.  The players don’t get to vote a captain every year.

What lessons are you teaching your son or daughter?  Did you teach them to earn their way to the top?  Did you teach them to be a teammate, or did you demand that the world give them glory?  Sometimes our actions are not always so apparent, so “in your face.”  Sometimes we try to do the right thing verbally, vocally, and out front, but our body language, our motivations, the things other people see, even when we don’t, speak a different message.

I read an article the other day, and in it, someone who knew the Jeter family said that all you had to do was look at Derek Jeter’s parents, and you knew why he is the way he is.  Why he shows class on and off the field.  Were his parents able to buy him more private lessons than anyone else?  Were they able to put him on the elite teams all the time?  I don’t know.  But what I do know is what Derek Jeter has said about his journey…

Since he was a kid, there was only one thing he wanted to do – play shortstop for the New York Yankees.  While he obviously enjoys many riches and glory for the destination he reached, I’d be willing to wager that the little boy that wanted to play shortstop for the Yankees didn’t think about how much money he would make some day.  He just wanted to play for the Yankees.

Do you know what your child’s dream is?  Instead of trying to make sure they succeed, why not show them the path that they might take to reach their dream…..

Then sit back and let them succeed.  

How Often Should You Have Private Lessons?

With youth sports being the key ticket to athletic stardom and riches, early specialization is one of the hottest topics of discussion these days.  You’ve seen plenty of articles about the negatives of specialization at young ages.  If you haven’t send me an email and I’ll provide you with some links.  However, as long as the carrot is still hanging on the end of the stick, there will be plenty of young players trying to reach that carrot, with or without specialization.

So in an attempt to be the best player you can be, you are bound to take your son or daughter to a private skills coach to improve their skills to the max so they can make their high school or travel ball teams, or reach that goal of an athletic scholarship.  Sometimes these lessons are a part of a travel or club organization.  Sometimes you will have a high school coach let you know that if you aren’t taking lessons you won’t make the team.  The variables to this equation are many.  So how often should you have these lessons?

In the softball world, there are lessons for hitting, fielding, and pitching.  You can also get lessons for catching… not just catching the ball but being a catcher.  Many players go to lessons each week.  Many go to multiple lessons, such as pitching and hitting.  Obviously the skills coach wants to see you each week as that means more money for them.  Please understand – I have no problem with coaches making money for private instruction.  A coach is spending his or her time with your son or daughter to help them improve their skills.  They deserve to be paid.  I give lessons myself.

So is it absolutely necessary to go to lessons each week?  That depends upon a few things.  1.  What are your child’s goals?  2.  How quickly do you want to reach those goals?  3.  What skill are you getting lessons for?

Some coaches will tell you that you need lessons each week so that bad habits won’t set in.  I would say that this is more true when a player is starting out but not necessarily when they are “first” starting.  In other words, give your child a chance to enjoy the sport before hauling you 8-year-old off to weekly lessons.

I tell the parents of the players I coach that if they really want to see me every week, I’m glad to help them.  However, I try to teach the player not just how to perform a given skill but how to be their own coach as well.  I teach them not just how to correct certain details but how to recognize what needs correcting.  I tell them that the more they can become their own coach, the less they’ll need me, and the better player they can become.  One of the key issues I see with a lot of player today is that they do not think, they do not learn the whole game.  They can replicate the skills the coaches have given them but they don’t always know why or when.  I don’t want robots.  I want players.

Parents will like it too if they don’t have to mortgage the farm to pay me.  There are plenty of players out there to fill up a schedule.  I try to always put the player first, not my need for the all elusive dollar.

Next post I will talk about how to pick your skills coaches.

How Has Elite Club and Travel Sports Affected the Family?

A few weeks ago, my friend Rich Trujillo asked me what has travel ball done to the family?  Rich just retired this last year as the head softball coach at La Mirada High School, where he had been at the helm for seventeen years.

I think back to when my daughter played travel ball.  I remember that there were times where I questioned our schedule as we were missing Sunday after Sunday from our church.  Part of me didn’t worry too much as my daughter still was active in the youth group. But I still wondered if there wasn’t a better way.  A few teams we were on tried to give the team off one weekend per month.

This week I’ve talked to two other travel coaches who said they give their teams one weekend off each month.  This is not just a religion thing either.  The coaches on my daughter’s first team were Catholic. Catholics usually have many more options as far as attending mass.  As Lutherans we were primarily a Sunday option.  But even if you do not attend church at all, there can still be time for your families.  For us it wasn’t a big deal there since we only have the one daughter.  But for families who have three or four children, especially if their ages are close together, this can be a challenge too.

I spoke with one coach this last week who said his one daughter had been invited to join a travel team.  They declined at this time because he has another younger daughter and a son who plays a different sport.  I’ve seen families where Mom is taking one of the kids to one tournament, Dad taking another kid to their sport, etc.

Lastly there is another reason to have some time off.  Our bodies need healing.  Any sport can take a toll on our bodies.  So much more so with our kids who’s joints may not be fully developed yet.  The body needs time to rest.  Studies have shown that not giving our athletes time to rest and recover leads to more overuse injuries.  And if you ignore those, you are going down the path to more severe injuries, even career ending injuries.

So let me issue a challenge to all travel and club coaches, regardless of sport.  I challenge you, if you are not already doing so, set your schedules so that your team can take a weekend off each month.  I know that, for example, with softball July-August can be tough to take that weekend off because you have all the national tournaments and showcases happening.  But even there, one weekend off might just keep your players healthy enough to make a difference when it really counts.

Parents, this also goes out to you.  It’s also up to you to let your child’s coaches know that your son or daughter needs a little r & r too.  The kids work hard.  Some travel teams practice or play long hours.  They need some rest.  Perhaps you’ve been one of those parents who are seeing your kids having a chance to play in college.  It’s easy to worry that if you aren’t there another player will take your spot on the team.  It’s your call.  I think, however, that more and more people are seeing how important this is.

Coaches:  If you are a team that gives your players a weekend per month off, or at least a Sunday each month, send me an email to coachmike@kidznsports.com.  If you haven’t been doing this and you’re willing to try to make that change, send me an email.  In a few weeks, I’ll write another post on this subject and I’ll list any team that tells me that they are putting their player’s health and families first by giving them that weekend off each month.  If you just do this at least 9 out of 12 months out of the year, I bet it will make a difference.

Tell me your team name, you city that you hail from, and the head coach’s name, and your sport of course.  We all love our sports.  Our kids love to play.  Let’s help them play longer and stronger.

Please share this post with other parents and coaches that you know.

The Path to an Athletic Scholarship: Do we need travel and club sports?

Travel softball, travel baseball, club volleyball and basketball, aquatic sports and others:  how important are these programs for student athletes who want to play in college?  If you have had any serious conversation with youth sports or high school parents, the subjects of private lessons, specializations, and travel ball are usually a part of the discussion.  Some claims are valid, some are questionable, but any discussion about travel or club ball is likely to draw comments, both good and bad.  So today I’m going to take a look at some of the arguments pro and con and then you can take a look at both sides.  Either way, if you are planning on having your son or daughter take the next step in youth sports, make sure you consider all the possibilities.  And please, discuss them with your child too.  After all, they are the one who will pay the price good or bad.  At the end, I will tell you a lesson I learned, thankfully before it was too late.

Comment:  You have to play travel or club ball if you want to play in college.

This is mostly true in sports like softball, volleyball, basketball, and probably the aquatic sports.  It’s true to some degree in baseball but football and baseball are two sports where a player can get to the college game without travel ball.

Comment:  High school sports is not important.  College coaches don’t care about that.

Don’t count on this.  Make sure you check with the coach at the college you’d like to play for.  More and more these days, college coaches are looking not just for good players but for good people.  They like to know that you did something more in your life than just softball or volleyball, or whatever.  Some coaches may not care if you were a model citizen.  Again, check first.

Comment:  Travel and club teams are too expensive. 

Yes, travel ball can be expensive.  Private lessons can be expensive.  There are the team dues, the hotel and travel expenses, equipment, etc.  There have been many cases where parents have paid more for travel ball and lessons than they would have paid just writing a check for the tuition at a four-year college.  Even with travel ball, there is no guarantee that your student-athlete will get a scholarship.  Different travel teams charge different fees.  Some teams travel more than others.  Does your child want to be on the “elite” teams or do they just want to play and get better?  These are all considerations to take into account.  I think the first thing you need to know is does your child (and do you) understand the commitment expected to play travel or club ball?  It isn’t like your local rec league where you can show up when you want to.

Comment:  The coach looks like he’s in it for the money.

Yes, there are travel and club teams where the coaches, or at least some of the coaches, may make a significant amount of money.  I’d say that’s not true for most teams.  But even those that do, some of them earn that money.  Remember, the coach is spending his or her time working with your son or daughter to help them reach a certain goal.  The coaches are often taking time away from their families, and they are spending their money a lot of the time, to put this team together.  Just like anything else you might spend money on:  Ask the coach about their experience, their plans for the team, what you can expect from the team, how much time do you have to commit (such as fundraising, working snack bar, etc.).  It’s not just about the coach’s knowledge or skills.  Even a mediocre coach might be a great coach for your child.  And that so-called “great coach” might not click with your child.  But it’s also about the coach’s relationships.  Have they build a connection with college coaches?  How much time and effort do they put in to connect your child to the college coaches?

Comment:  I’ve heard this coach (or team) plays favorites.  Lots of drama.

Teams are made up of people.  I know of one player who expected to be on an organization’s top team and expected also to play a lot right away.  That is often times not the case.  Many times you must pay your dues.  Your son or daughter will spend some time on the bench.  You cannot expect the coach to cater to you.  This is an opportunity to learn, to practice a lot and get better, and to learn how to earn your place on a team.  All players should get the opportunity to play but there is no such thing as “Equal playing time.”

There are many more issues to discuss.  I will continue this discussion in the next week.  But I want to leave you with one important point.  Make sure that your son or daughter understands that there are going to be successes and there are going to be letdowns.  At the end of the day it’s the coach’s team and he or she will do what they want.  You are not going to tell them how to run their team.  Some of these coaches have been coaching for twenty years or more.  Make sure your child is ready to possibly deal with some adversity and some rejection.  I learned this lesson the hard way….  Sort of.  But it could have been a lot harder.

When my daughter was 12 and had just finished her first year of rec ball at the 12 u level, we decided to try out for travel ball.  My daughter was a left-handed pitcher.  She was considered slow for her age.  We tried out for five teams.  Jessica did very well at each team’s tryout but none of them invited her to join the team.  “Come back when she’s five mph faster.”

We changed pitching coaches.  Jessica picked up some more speed.  She added that 5 mph.  One of the teams that we had already tried out for had lost some players and had posted that they were looking for some players.  I called the manager.  She said she’d love to see Jessica again.

The day of the practice, Jessica had just gotten off school for the summer.  She told me that she thought she would like to take a break from softball.  I told her that she could but there would be one rule.  She could not just sit around and play on the computer.  She had to do “something, be active.”  I promised I was not going to be “that parent” and swore I would not say “The S word.” (Softball) I went out to my office in the garage.

About fifteen minutes went by when Jessica came out and said that she was bored.  “What do you want to do?” I asked.  “I don’t know,” she said.  About ten minutes later she came out again.  Same story.  I still did not say the S word.  A little later I went into the house and Jessica again complained about being bored.  Each time I asked her “What would you like to do?”  Each time the answer was “I don’t know.”  Finally, I suggested that Jessica goes to the practice.  She said we were going to be late and that the manager wouldn’t like that.  I said in this case it probably didn’t matter because it wasn’t a regular tryout.  Finally, Jessica said the words that I will never forget…..

“Dad, what if they don’t want me again?”

I had no clue that about the rejection that was building up inside of her.  She never complained.  She never cried about a team not taking her.  But it was there.  It gave me an opportunity to tell her that her only responsibility was to do the best she could at all times.  “God knows what team you’re supposed to be on.”  We ended up going to the practice that day.  The team accepted her and Jessica because a Santa Fe Rebel.  She was playing travel ball.

Are you thinking about travel or club sports?  Think twice.  Talk with your son or daughter, not just at them.  I recommend against travel ball for kids under 12.  Oh, it’s ok to travel with an all-star team from your rec league.  That’s different.  It really is.  But for a regular club or travel team, there’s a big jump in everything – prices, time, talent, commitment, …. Everything.  Make sure you are already for the journey.  It can be a fun one.  But it can defeat you if you let it.

Have a great week.

Coach Mike

Good Coach, Bad Coach!

What do you do when your child (or you) doesn’t like a coach?

If you have been involved with youth sports at all, you know that there are many different coaches.  Some coaches are good; some are not so good.  Some coaches are better than others.  Some that may seem bad or good may just be the opposite.  So what do you do when your son or daughter comes home and complains about the coach?

When it comes to recreational sports, like little league, ponytail, pop warner football, etc., coaches are volunteers and you may have little say about who coaches your child.  Most states and organizations require that the coaches, even volunteers are checked out.  Many have to go through a background check and be fingerprinted.  For high school sports, that is a requirement.  For travel ball or club ball, while I believe better steps are being implemented to check out coaches, but there you have more say so in choosing what team your son or daughter plays for.  Perhaps your son or daughter is on that bubble where you may only have one or two teams who invite them to join.

So once your child has joined a team, it is a good opportunity to teach your child about commitment.  You all might be excited about being selected for a team only to find out later that it wasn’t quite what you thought it would be.  Or perhaps, there was a conflict along the way and now you feel some tension with team members or the coach.  Too many parents allow their sons or daughters to quit teams too easily in my opinion.  It is sort of a “grass is greener on the other side” scenario.  If you don’t water any grass it soon turns brown, regardless of what side of the fence you’re on.

It is a frustrating thing for a coach when a player is quick to chime in, usually during some instruction, “well, that’s now how my last coach said to do it.”  With a club or travel team, or even some high school teams, you might be invited to go back and play for that “last coach.”  Young athletes need to learn how to play for different coaches.  Just because you don’t like a coach doesn’t mean they aren’t a good coach.  Players respond differently to different coaches so while you might not like the coach, three other players on your team might think he or she is the greatest coach they’ve ever had.  Change your focus to trying to learn everything you can from that coach.  If you quit too many teams, you are not doing your child any favors and you will soon earn a reputation which might make it more difficult for your child later.

In my daughter’s travel ball career, which lasted seven years, we left three teams.  On one, they had a huge recruiting bonus because they made the championship game in a national tournament.  They suddenly had seven pitchers.  As you can imagine, my daughter got very little pitching or playing time.  At the Christmas break, we found another team.  Jessica said she would prefer to stay with the first team, and the manager said they were going to use her more.  We would have liked that too because their practice was 5 minutes away where the other team was 30 minutes away.  So Jessica was going to both practices.  After the first friendly, Jessica got to pitch to two batters.  When we got home there was an email from the new team saying they had a uniform with Jessica’s number on it.  That was one we left.  But we didn’t leave on bad terms and we didn’t leave in the crucial part of the season.

One team we left because they could never get enough players to play.  The third team we left we did so after the assistant coach, who liked Jessica a lot, told us the head coach wasn’t going to use her.  He had brought in a superstar pitcher, who I found out later was overused and had to lay off a year.  Other than those examples we completed our commitment to every team Jessica played on.

Parents, one of the benefits of sports is that it can teach your child how to deal with adversity.  That means even playing for a coach that you may not like very much.  Unless there is a situation that is totally unbearable, such as inappropriate behavior taking place, abusive language or actions by coaches or teammates, or something extreme where you son or daughter could be physically or emotionally harmed (I’m not just talking about being bent out of shape a little), help them deal with the negatives and look for the positives.  Help them learn to take something positive, to learn something new, out of every situation.

Have a great week.

Coach Mike