Tag Archives: volleyball

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

Finally – My Third Post on High School Tryouts

Well, that week went by pretty fast…..LOL.

I’ve finally gotten a chance to sit down and write my last blog in my series on high school tryouts.  As I had posted, our whole house was under the weather for a week or so and now that I’m in season I have seen time fly by way too fast.  But for those of you who are still with me, I present a synopsis of how I run my program and what I look for in tryouts.  Please remember, every program has differences and whether across the board or within one school’s programs, every tryout is different.

I’ve coached at a small private high school and at two larger public schools, counting my current position.  I’ve also coached one year of a JV program at a public school.  In my experience at my three varsity programs we often found ourselves needing bodies.  We would have anywhere from four to fourteen players tryout for the team.  These are new players, not the returning players.  And while I have cut a few players, I generally keep most of those coming out because of the low numbers.

I am quite sure there is probably not a coach alive that would not want to have skilled travel or club players on their team in any sport.  It not only leads to having a stronger team, but it is also easier on the coach in developing practice plans.  A coach can work on more advanced issues because he or she does not have to spend as much time teaching basic skills.  These players almost always have the basic skills down pat.  That doesn’t mean the coach can skip teaching basic skills.  It just means you do not have to spend as much time.

I remember after I had left the private school I coached at and was hired at Newport Harbor, a division one high school in the Sea View League, which at that time was arguably one of the toughest leagues in the U.S. as far as softball goes.  At one of the tournaments we were playing in, I ran into a coach that my teams had played against previously.  He asked me “So Mike, isn’t it nice to just be able to roll the ball out and let them play?”

Of course the answer is yes, if it were just that easy.

So what do I look for in tryouts and why did I cut the few players that I have cut?

First, I remember back to a philosophy I learned from the UCLA program originally although I’ve heard it repeated many times elsewhere.  There are only two things you can control in life, your attitude and your effort.  That is what I look for in my new players.  If there attitude is right and they are willing to give the effort, I am reluctant to cut those players, even when they are very raw and have a lot to learn.  That’s what coaching is about and that’s also what JV is for.  I have an excellent JV coach that is good about working with young players and teaching basic skills.  Obviously, if I had forty or fifty players trying out the young inexperienced players who have played little or no softball would probably not have a chance to make the team.  So far that hasn’t been the case.  What I have been blessed with are some remarkable young ladies who are willing to work hard and learn.  Sometimes these players only play one season.  Other times they have developed into pretty decent players, even if they were not super players that would go on to play in college.

I am willing to carry a slightly larger roster, say 15 or 16.  I am even willing to carry the limit of 20 players if I had that many while still leaving enough players for JV.  The reason I feel this way is that to me, playing high school sports is different than playing for a club or travel team for one big reason:  PRIDE!

Sure there is pride in winning a national title with your club or travel team.  But it is not the same as winning a league, city, or state championship with your high school team.  Most players will stay with a travel team for one or two years.  But you are at your high school for four years.  And there is something special about wearing your school colors, receiving your varsity letter, and representing your school before your friends.  I like to see as many players as possible have that opportunity as long as they are willing to work together and contribute as a team.  Talent is secondary to making the team.  Of course, I will put the best nine players on the field as the starting unit.

Most schools have students that through no fault of their own did not have the chance to play sports.  Kids are at the mercy of their parents.  Maybe they played at a middle school but just did not receive strong coaching.  And if the parents could not afford private lessons or club ball, is that the player’s fault?  It is easy to say that such a situation is not my problem.  My job is to put a competitive team on the field.  But especially if you don’t have large numbers trying out, if you want to build your program sometimes you have to be willing to take on a player who needs a lot of work but who has a great attitude and is willing to learn.

I am willing to teach first so I can win later.

I had asked for other coaches to share their philosophy with us so that you can see more examples.  I had a few tell me they would send something in but only one did.  Below is that coach’s story.

(I’ve received the following response from a JV coach, Patti Mascone)

Coach:

In response to request for coaching philosophies, I am a JV softball coach at Atholton High School in Maryland, a medium-sized school in the suburbs known for academics.

The JV level offers a great opportunity for 9th and 10th graders who may not make the Varsity team (some don’t want to play Varsity because they may ride the bench). If we did not have JV, we would have to cut too many girls every year. I have to thank our county, Howard, and the high school, for instilling a lot of the fairness and communication into how our programs handle tryouts.

Of course, my tryout portion is based on those who have been “cut,” for lack of a better term, from Varsity, so that puts limits on what I am looking for. I can’t really pick kids to “pieces” of the puzzle, as that is more for the Varsity level. A JV coach needs kids who can play multiple positions and are overall players.

We have very few travel players in our district, so I spend a lot of time at JV level teaching the game to athletes who may not have had much softball experience. We are also instilling educational experiences to help the players in their future adult lives. So first, we have to look for athletes at JV level. For travel players that do come our way, we look for players who are good leaders, mentors, and teammates because of the variance in skill level. We have strict academic/homework requirements during the season, so we also want and have to take kids with good grades. I definitely read the honor rolls and ask the kids at tryouts to describe on paper their school activities and honors and what they would contribute to the team. I had one player who wrote such a great essay on her tryout sheet, I read it to the team as motivation.

I like to keep anywhere from 15-18 players, because at JV, we keep track of playing time and get everyone in. There are also injuries and other school activities to account for–we play three games a week once we get going (20 total). We have priority system so that kids can do both an activity (e.g., ROTC, band) and a sport to the satisfaction of all involved. However, academics and tutoring take precedence over softball in all cases.

It is imperative that a coach keep an objective grading sheet on each player at tryouts and that all prospects participate in the same drills. It is hugely beneficial to give the prospects a copy of a blank evaluation sheet or tell them what the categories of evaluation are prior to the start of tryouts. Of course, some things like “hitting form” will remain somewhat subjective, but by applying a number from a scale, the coach documents what the coach saw, which is better than writing “like her hitting form.” I also allow some time at the end of tryouts to redo a key skill evaluation or add one so that the kids know they were seen by me. (I typically ask the group what they want to show off.)

At the end of tryouts, each cut player is told why she is cut, in private. The player or parent of a cut JV player may discuss my evaluation and ask about evaluation criteria. The parent or player is not allowed to inquire, discuss, or know anything about the assessment of another player. I don’t and can’t discuss other individuals. I find that a total score keeps the decision and discussion more objective by allowing both a “points cut-off” and “highest point total.” Everyone is used to grading systems, so it works.

About 1/3 of the tryout score is based on sportsmanship, attitude, communication, and other teammate or team member qualities (such as the essay). This is so important. The coach also should NOT be fooled by first impressions. For example, I have timed how long it takes a fielder to make a play (and not just running), because some fielders who seem slow actually make quicker and more consistent defensive plays.

I also use the tryout sheet as a benchmark and go over this sheet with the player at the end of the season during individual evaluations; the player then knows what she needs to do to try and make Varsity the next year.

Because our system keeps all JV and V sports separate (they play at the exact same time), there is no concern about players going back and forth. You either play JV or Varsity. Of course, the Varsity coach can call you up, but once you go up, you stay up. This creates a lot more certainty for everyone involved.

(This is the coach’s personal philosophy and is not speaking as a representative of her school.)

I hope you can take something from our programs to help you in your own.  Or if you are a parent of a player trying to make a team, I hope these last three blogs have helped you understand the process a little better.  Next week I will talk about my policy for seniors.  Can a senior play on JV?  Or do you cut them if they’re not a varsity player?

 

High School Tryouts

I heard recently that the daughter of a friend did not make the team at her high school.  I am a bit surprised, as I know the athletic talent and positive character that this kid possesses.  I know this young lady is very disappointed.  I heard some of the same comments from the parent as I’ve head many times as I have coached youth sports over the years.  I have felt some of the same feelings at times when my daughter was not selected for various travel ball teams.  So I thought today would be a good day for a “review” of the tryout scenario, the associated comments resulting from not making the teams, and the opportunities available or directions to consider going forward.  I know that nothing I say here will change the disappointment of player or parent immediately.  But hopefully, once the tears and anger have subsided, it will help both player and parent get back on the saddle and ride that horse again….. or not.

For the purposes of this blog I will deal most specifically with high school tryouts today.  There are different parameters to high school tryouts that may seem similar to other tryouts but which are unique to high school sports.   The disappointment may be greater because if you don’t make a travel or club team, there are many other teams available to try out for.  But high school is special.  High school is unique.  You can’t just keep trying out for different high school teams until you make a team, even though some parents seemingly try to do that.  When I first started coaching high school softball here in southern California, I heard the comment that “high school softball is a joke.”  Yes, if you want to play at the college level you almost have to play travel ball.  I say almost because it is not an absolute.  I say almost because there are some very good high school teams.  There are some schools where the team is as good as a travel team.  But consider again that to many students, wearing your school colors is a different pride that is rarely seen in travel or club ball.  To me, high school softball or any other sport is not a joke.

The first thing to remember is that it is the coach’s team.  This is true in high school, college, travel and club ball, or any other “competitive” team sports.  Unlike rec ball where every player will get to play, at the higher levels every player is subject to the opinions, whims, and directions of the coach or coaches.  The head coach is going to select the players who they think will help make their team the most competitive.  Each coach has different criteria for picking the players at tryouts.  It may change due to the different number of players needed based on returning talent.  Some coaches are very demanding while others are more laid back.  Some like to carry larger rosters, others want the minimum number of players they feel they can get through the season with.  Some demand that you play travel or club ball, others are simply glad if you do.  Some coaches may even have a silent requirement that you play on THEIR travel or club team, or one specified by them.

The bottom line under any coach is that their perception of your son or daughter is THEIR PERCEPTION.  It is their opinion.  If you lined up ten different coaches in any given sport, and each had to pick fifteen players out of a pool of say, fifty players, you are likely to not have any two teams be identical.  I would say, and this is a guess, that the ten coaches might agree on the top five to eight players.  They might even agree on the top ten players.  But I can almost guarantee that the next five players would be different on each team, depending of course on the overall makeup of the pool of fifty.  Coaches will probably agree on the top players but there are always players that each coach will see something in them that the coach thinks he can take a given player and with the “proper coaching” will make them a quality player.  Sometimes these are even called “projects.”  I will discuss projects in a different blog.  But the bottom line is that just because your son or daughter doesn’t make the team doesn’t mean they are a bad player or that they are not a good person.  Remember, teens are often sensitive on the self-esteem issue, as are some parents.  It’s easy to forget that, especially with high school sports, your son or daughter is graded on a sliding scale.  This year they might not make the team but if they try out again next year they might make the team.

Next week I will discuss the associated comments that are often heard from parents when their child doesn’t make the team.  There are many different comments, some are legitimate and some are rumor.  How do you separate one from another?  Or do you listen to the comments at all?

Remember, teach first, win later.
Coach Mike