TeamSnap: Four Ways to Organize A Productive Practice

028 TeamSnap

Here’s an excerpt from the post I wrote for the TeamSnap blog:

I like to rotate all the kids through all the stations. Even the non-catchers try the catching drill, because it’s good throwing work either way and you never know when we’ll be forced to use an “emergency” catcher.

Here’s the link to the post: https://blog.teamsnap.com/general-sports/four-ways-to-organize-a-productive-baseball-practice

TeamSnap Blog

I try to post something every Wednesday.  This is the first Wednesday I will miss since I started 8U Travel six months ago.

Recently, the folks at TeamSnap (https://blog.teamsnap.com/) reached out and asked if I’d be interested in blogging for them.  Frankly, I was shocked, but more than happy to give it a shot.  Tomorrow, TeamSnap will post a blog I wrote.

Which brings me to today.  I enjoy writing and am super thankful for those of you who read and comment.  It keeps it fun and invigorating.  But with a day job, my family and a baseball team to coach, I barely manage to keep the posts coming on 8U Travel.  Two posts in a week are just beyond me right now.

If you came looking today for a new post, apologies, but I will post the link to the TeamSnap blog tomorrow when it posts.

Cheers!

Brian

All of the Above

026 All Of the AboveThere is something about us which makes us want to see things as black or white.  Our approach to youth sports, or minimally to why we want our children to play, is no different.  Look around and you see people pushing singular objectives for youth sports.  One person tells you youth sports should be all about fun.  The next says no, they should be about player development.  Another, wrong again, they should be about life lessons.  Yet another, well, maybe that’s not it, but whatever the right answer is, they should definitely not be about winning.  Shouldn’t youth sports be about all of the above?

Much better writers have described these, but in a nutshell:

Fun

They are called games after all.  If we’re not having fun, what’s the point of playing?  If your kid is having fun, the more likely she is to fall in love with the game and want to be there and down the road be willing to put in the hard work the game demands.  And she’s going to play better.  If your kid isn’t having fun, he’s not going to want to play for long.  Even at practice, particularly at practice, where the hard work happens, there has to be an element of fun.

Development

Your kid needs to get better or his window to play is going to close quickly.  This is true even for the best players.  In some sports the fundamentals are table stakes.  If you’re not mastering the basics you have no chance.  Skating in hockey is an example and I’d argue technical skills in soccer are the same.  Moreover, the pride, the satisfaction, the self-esteem, call it whatever you like, which comes from being able to do something she couldn’t do before only helps to reinforce the hard work ethic and boost the fun factor.

Life Lessons

Sports teach your kid so many lessons he will take with him into adulthood.  Learning how to be part of a team, learning how to win and lose or even the fact there are winners and losers, learning while it may be “unfair”, not everyone is treated the same are a few which come to mind.  No kid is playing sports because of the lessons they teach, but those lessons will have the longest impact, remaining with your child long after she’s stopped playing no matter what level she reaches.

Winning

This one seems to be contentious though I do not understood why.  The kids want to win; it’s fun and it feels goods.  Their sport is likely the first thing they deeply care about so winning is a huge deal to them.  Winning helps reinforce the idea hard work pays off.  And, whether we like it or not, winning and losing is the way the world works.

My only wonder is why we need youth sports to be about one thing.  These are all no-brainer objectives for youth sports.  At least they ought to be.  The key is striking a balance and not prioritizing any one over the others.  You don’t want a coach who is so focused on winning they are willing to resort to bush-league plays or to playing the top-nine every inning of every game.  There’s no fun in sitting in the bench and it’s not helping your kid improve.  But you don’t want a coach whose sole objective is your kid having fun because she’s not likely to get a whole lot better.   If you’re only focused on one, you are closing the window on the length of time your kid will play which only shortchanges what he will take with him when the games end.  When I hear a coach or program director say the objectives are A or B or C or D, I know it’s not the program for my kids.  I want a coach who’s thinking about all of the above.  My kids deserve it.

Ok. This Guy Should Stay Away

Last week, I wrote about the reason you cannot keep me away from my kids’ games.  The idea for Stop Telling Me to Stay Away came from reading numerous articles telling parents how much better it would be for everyone if they skipped the next one.  What I quickly glossed over with a sentence or two was the fact the intended audience for most of these articles was, to a large extent, the problem parent.

025 Ok This Guy Should Stay AwayWhen I take my son to his private lesson I go hit in the cages.  I have all spring and summer to coach him, so it’s best if he and his coach work together without me.  When the cages are full the accepted practice is to let other hitters work-in which is how I ended up sharing a cage last weekend with a kid one or two years older than my son.  Ordinarily I would have given up the cage completely, the kid has a baseball season ahead of him, and I have . . . well, I may play beer-league softball this summer, but I felt like hitting and the alternative was to watch my son’s lesson which really isn’t helpful to anyone.

“Johnny” shows up when I am mid-round.  I make my way out after the last pitch to let Johnny step in for his first hacks.  Before a ball can come rolling down the chute and through the churning wheels of the pitching machine, it starts.

“Is that how you’re going to stand? . . . You’re not ready to hit.  Get ready to hit. . . . I’m going to put this on 50 mph. . . . You can too hit 50 mph.”  It’s Johnny’s dad.  Johnny still hasn’t seen a pitch but Dad’s on a non-stop roll for a minute or two.  He keeps it up as Johnny proceeds to miss every pitch.  “You’re swaying back.”

“What do you mean?”

“Just what I said, you’re swaying back.”

“I don’t know what you mean.”

And so it goes from one round to the next.  “Do this.  You’re not doing that.  Why is your bat like that?  That’s not where you hold the bat.  Since when are your feet there?  Oh, you missed because the pitch wasn’t perfect, huh?  Should we ask the pitchers to put it on a tee for you?”  Johnny misses the vast majority of pitches, making only weak contact on the handful he does manage to hit.  Through it all Dad is relentless with his useless observations and seemingly spiteful comments.  Somewhere around round six, to prove a point which only makes sense to him, Dad does turn the speed up from 40 mph to 50 mph.  You can guess the outcome.

The monologue would have been as comical as it was futile, assuming its intent was to magically make Johnny start spraying frozen ropes around the cage, if not for the fact Johnny was red faced with two big watery eyes he barely kept from overflowing with tears.  Dad’s crowning achievements of the evening were “What’s wrong with you?” and, three pitches into what would mercifully be his last round, all of which Johnny missed, “Get out!  Get out of the cage!  I can’t watch you anymore!”

Let those sink in.

“What’s wrong with you?”  Because the ability to hit a baseball is something we’re all born with and Johnny is somehow defective because he isn’t tonight.

“I can’t watch you anymore!”  Because Dad’s satisfaction is the only reason Johnny is allowed to play baseball and Johnny is trying as hard as he can to miss every pitch just to get under Dad’s skin.

I debated saying something but did not.  The few people I have retold this story to generally agree I had no business even thinking of saying something.  Still I can’t help feeling I should have, if only to offer some advice to Johnny to help him correct two minor issues with his swing which were going a long way towards keeping him from making decent contact.  Not that it would have mattered.  Johnny’s chances of hitting the ball were over before he even saw the first pitch and probably before he got in the car to drive to the cages in the first place.

I learned a big lesson at my son’s first ever soccer game thanks to my wife.  I was shouting all sorts of instructions from the sideline when, about five mins in, she strode up to me and calmly said “If I were him, I’d be nervous as hell right now.”  She might as well have punched me in the stomach.  I truly didn’t realize what I was doing until she played “sideline-daddy” whisperer, and I knew she was right in an instant.  I shut my mouth for the rest of the game and apologized to my son afterwards.  Now I sit on the sideline of his games, watching him play and calmly cheering for him and his team, whether they do well or not, when and if I say anything at all.  No instructions, no do this or don’t do that.  It’s pretty much the same when I’m coaching his baseball games in terms of instructions.  That’s why we have practice.  When we get in the car after a game and after practices too, I say only two things.  First I ask, “Did you have fun playing today?”  Then I tell him how much I loved watching him play.  From there it’s up to him.  If he wants to talk about the game, I will.  And if not, that’s fine too.  More and more, I find him asking how I thought he played and if I have any advice for him.  I can’t think of a better environment to praise him and offer some examples with actionable tips to help his learning process.

After last week’s post, a good friend commented it depends on the kid as he wouldn’t have wanted his father at any of his games.  Yet another point I glossed over.  So to the Johnny’s Dads of the world,  I maintain it’s not my business how you parent your kids.  Still, a bit of advice.  If you’re going to open your mouth, something helpful or insightful ought to be coming out of it.  If you can’t do that, then keep your mouth shut.  If you can’t do that, then stay home.  Johnny’s not playing for you, he’s playing for himself.   If you’re not supportive, particularly when you are trying to help him, you are only hurting him.  The sooner you recognize that, the better.  Especially for Johnny.

Stop Telling Me to Stay Away

024 Stop Telling Me To Stay Away 001Seems like everyone is telling you to miss your kid’s next sports event.  Less pressure on your kid.  It’ll will make it fun.  They’ll be excited to tell you about it afterwards.  Less stress and running around for you.  I know there are lots of parents who seem to be getting it all wrong.  Who I am to tell anybody how to parent their kid though I would encourage all parents to follow the pledge from RantsFromMommyland?  As for me staying away, all I can say is it’s not going to happen.  I won’t.  I can’t.  I can’t imagine not being there because I absolutely need to be there.

I race bikes.  Tour de France-type bikes though as a low-level amateur (Category 3 in USA Cycling parlance which amounts to a pimple on the rear-end of the cycling world.)  I’ve been doing it for 20 years and through it I’ve had incredible experiences, met unbelieve people and made lifelong friends.  Cycling has been very, very good to me.

If you’re going to race bikes, you need to be able to ride in a pack.  You need to be comfortable riding shoulder-to-shoulder with three riders on either side of you, five rows of riders in front and fifty to seventy guys behind you.  You need to be comfortable darting in and out of little holes that open up because the most efficient way to the front is through the pack not around it.  You need to be comfortable doing all this while hurtling around at 25+ mph on a 2-cm wide strip of rubber with a thin sheet of Lycra™ being your only protection if it all goes horribly wrong.  It can be claustrophobic and it can be scary.  The sounds and smells of a crash are nauseating, the bitter scent of burning rubber, the loud popping and crunching as carbon and metal hit the ground, the grotesque scraping sound flesh makes when it hits asphalt, and the yelling and screaming from riders who have fallen, are about to or simply can’t see and are hoping to pick out a line around the carnage.  But if you’re going to race bikes you need to shove all thought out of your mind and jump in right in the middle.

Nine years ago, I started developing a case of the yips.  It starting taking more and more mental energy to sit in the middle of a pack of 110 riders (you may notice a connection between when the yips started and the title of this blog.)  It kept getting worse to the point the only two places I felt comfortable were at the sharp end or at the back.  Racing became a chore.  When I hit rock bottom, I was using coaching baseball as an excuse to not race.  So I went to psychologist.  I’m pretty sure he had it pegged about five minutes after meeting me.  It took me a bit longer.  With the birth of my kids, the stakes became infinitely bigger.  But maybe not for the obvious reason.

You see, it’s not them I worry about it.  It’s me.  I’m not worried about how they’ll get on without their old man or how they’ll be provided for or that they’re going to be sad for a while (who doesn’t want to keep their kids from hurting?)  It turns out, I’m the one I’m worried about because I don’t want to miss out.  I don’t want to miss out on watching them grow and watching them experience life.  I don’t want to miss out because I need to know what happens to them and part of knowing is being there to see it unfold.  I need to see what choices they make and where it leads them.  I need to know where all this goes, this being whatever they choose to do or play or not play, and where it ends, and the odds are incredibly stacked at the end, in terms of sports, coming exceptionally soon in the grand scheme of things.  I desperately need to know how the next chapter turns out.  I know I’m not going to make it to the last page, hopefully this book has a million chapters, but, oh brother, I need to see what happens next year and the year after and the one after and as many more after as I have left.  And you want me to skip the next game?  Should I miss the next play or recital too?  [Expletive-deleted.]  No way, no how.  Not going to happen.  Experiencing all those moments, the good, the bad and the ugly, watching them go through it all and grow and mature, being there to rejoice in their happiness and to help them get off the mat when the inevitable lows come, that’s the reward of being called Dad just as the being there for the moments my players have on the ball field is the reward of being called Coach.  So, like it or not, I am here to stay.  I want to be there.  I need to be there.  I need to see their lives happen.  All too soon the games are going to stop and being there won’t be an option.

Ever so slowly I’m getting back to my bike and racing.  But I won’t hesitate for a second to drop the bike to see the next game.  They’re my kids, and I don’t want to miss a thing.