Do We Play Too Many Games?

The folks at TeamSnap posted an article I wrote for them on the TeamSnap blog: 

045 Baseball-Pitcher.web_My son’s baseball team, which I coach, just wrapped up a summer travel season in which they played 19 games over eight weeks—really seven if you consider the five-day moratorium over the Fourth of July holiday. 

During that same span, we only managed eight practices. Do the math. It’s too many games and far too few practices.  Sure, games are important. They’re important because kids have fun playing, because practice has to be building towards something and because kids learn a lot from executing under pressure.

But young athletes do not get better by playing games. They get better by practicing. 

Click here to continue reading on the TeamSnap blog.


Back to 8U Travel

044 Back to 8U BaseballThis is my first blog in quite some time, though that is not the reason for the title.  Upon the conclusion of an enjoyable baseball season coaching my son’s team (seasons if you count rec ball and the ensuing travel season), my daughter declared she wanted to try out for the travel softball team.

With her having only played t-ball where fielding is done as a scrum and no one makes an out, she and I did what I imagine everyone would do in the same situation.  We practiced when we got up and we practiced when I got home from work.  We threw, we caught, and we hit and then we did it all again.

She got a-whole-lot better over the two weeks though in the end there were enough girls to form two teams.  Two teams means two coaches.  I’m the newly minted head coach of a girls fall travel softball team.  I’m headed back to 8U ball and thus the title of this post.  I do so with a mix of anticipation and trepidation.

On the plus side, I get to coach my daughter (yes, I coached her t-ball team, but really that’s not as much coaching as it is herding cats.)  If it’s anything like coaching my son, it will be an amazing experience for me.  Hopefully for her too.  And this is coaching actual games, with outs and defense albeit coach-pitch but still . . . And it’s coaching girls who want to play, who asked to play and tryout.  The teaching is always easier when the pupils want to be there.

But there’s a catch with going back to the 8U level.  One that has me worried.  One of the more enjoyable aspects of coaching the 9U baseball team was not having to teach the rudiments of the game.  With a year of travel baseball and a second rec season under their belts, the boys had a foundation upon which I could introduce more concepts and plays.

As an example, I installed a bunt defense this season.  It was a simple one, designed with as few moving parts as a bunt defense can have while keeping the bases loaded.  We used it once until the final game of the season, it happened to be the championship game, in which the opposing coach bunted against four times (including leading off the last inning) trying to take advantage. (I’ve always been clear on my disdain of bunting at this age level).  My boys nailed it three times of the four, only an error at first kept them from a perfect record.  It was one of those moments I will never forget as “the coach”, as much for the statement it made to the other coach (at least in my mind) as for how proud I was of my kids.

Now, with the 8U girls, it’s back to the basics, especially with a group who has mostly played only t-ball before this.  There won’t be any bunt defenses to install.  And that worries me.  Having advanced beyond the simple stuff once, will I have the patience to start all over again?  Will I have still the ability to break down the game into understandable, bite-size chunks?  Will I be able to hold the attention of eight year old and seven year old girls to not make it boring?  Will it be boring for me?

Frankly, I found coaching t-ball this past rec season tedious, almost as tedious as my daughter found playing it.  And I think that’s what scares me the most.  In some ways, the pressure is no different than pressures I feel coaching any team; am I doing enough to help the players improve, help them have fun and put them in a position to win some ballgames?  Yet the real difference is me and starting from scratch and whether I have the patience to truly teach the game, every aspect of the game.

Can you ever go back?  I don’t know, but I am about to find out.

Too Much Baseball

043 Too Much BaseballI’m not sure there is such a thing, but it sure feels like I’ve hit it over the past week and a half.  At a minimum there has been enough baseball to keep me from having time to write a post last week and just enough time to write this excuse this week.

The weeks have gone something along the lines of three rec playoff games last week including the championship game on Friday night, followed by a travel practice on Saturday morning, followed by the rec All-Star game on Sunday morning (not sure a 9U All-Star game makes a lot of sense, but we had one so we coach), followed by a travel team practice Tuesday ahead of our season opener last night (Wednesday) which is followed by games today (Thursday) and our Cal Ripken District opener on Saturday.  And of course we have a practice on Sunday because we have two weeknight games next week and two more CRT games on the weekend.

The only question I have will all of these games is when do we expect the players to get better?  Because it isn’t happening in the games and all the games leave little time for practice.  And I won’t turn baseball into a five- or six-night-a-week job for 9-year-olds.

We’re in the league for the first time this season, but afterwards, I’ll sit down and think about what’s best and if there is an alternative to 12 games over 6 weeks.  It’s too much baseball even for me.

The Rules Really Do Matter

042 The Rules Really Do Matter 001A team in Majors 60, the next division up in our rec league, was short players and my son and another player from my rec team were asked to fill in.  We met the head coach, and he and all the coaches (I went to college with one of the assistants and it was only 25 years later we found out we live in the same town) were exceptionally nice and treated the two younger boys extremely well.  I set up shop deep along the left-field line figuring I might enjoy a game in which I could just sit back and watch my son play baseball.

The boys played well enough and were on second and third with one out when a player from their host-team hit a pop-up to short.  My immediate thought after the umpire yelled “infield fly” was, “This is going to be interesting.”  I knew the two younger players had no clue about what happens on an infield fly other than perhaps knowing the batter was out.

On cue, the shortstop missed the pop-up and the two boys took off for home and third, both reaching safely in the way that can only happen in a game of young players still learning baseball (my son was perhaps three feet from the shortstop and standing on second when he made his mad dash for third.)

“No harm.  No foul,” I thought, only to hear someone yell to the catcher, who had the ball, to touch third base.  When he did, the umpire called my other minors player, who had scored, out.  There was a brief discussion among the coaches and the call stood.

042 The Rules Really Do Matter 002

My view for the night.  First time it’s not been from on the field.  Can’t say I like it, but the host coaches were great.

Every nerve in my body save one was compelling me to get up and make sure my son’s host-coaches understood the rule.  The one nerve won out.  Then a parent walked over two other parents I was sitting by and explained the call was the kid hadn’t tagged up as per the rule.  I simply asked, “How do you tag up on a ball that wasn’t caught?”

In between innings I strolled over to my classmate and the head coach to say the ump didn’t get the call right, but I thought they had handled it beautifully.  Though the game got out of hand later, it was a close game at that point and they handled it without a fuss.

I’d like to believe I would have handled it with the aplomb they did.  Hats off and all my respect to them.

I’d also like to think I would have made sure the call was reversed – I cannot stress enough this is in no way a knock on my son’s host coaches.

I would have wanted the correct call made not so much because of the possibility of a win (though I’ve always been clear I believe it is the coach’s job to put the players in the best possible situation to win and that means coaching to your best ability in all situations) but because it was another valuable teaching moment lost in a season where I’ve seen too many lost already.  In the aftermath of the blown call, there are at least two young ball players who were involved in the play still with no clue about the infield fly rule and while I don’t know about the Majors players, I’d guess quite a few of them are in the same boat.  You also have a young umpire (our rec league uses umps as young as 13) who does not understand the rule.  Worse still, the same group believes they now know the infield fly rule.  Unfortunately, what they “know” is incorrect.

While we were getting an ice cream after the game, I asked my son what happens on an infield fly.  His response, which included something about tagging up, made it clear he really didn’t know anything other than the batter is out.  I told him that was on me because I hadn’t taught it to him yet.

We have a travel team practice tonight.  I’ll be teaching the infield fly rule.

A Little Faith Restored

041 A Little Faith RestoredMy son’s team played a game this past weekend which reminded me why it has always been important to me my children play team sports.  It wasn’t the result (they won) or how my son played (not his best game) or how the game unfolded (a tight battle until they slowly pulled away).  It was the fact the adults got out of the way and let the kids play.  And play they did.

The pitchers pitched.  Not pitches resembling something out of arc league softball but actual pitches.  And while there were lots of strikeouts, a funny thing happened with the better pitching.  Kids on both teams swung the bat and made more contact than we’ve seen all year long.

And then they made plays.  Not all the plays, they’re only nine-years-old after all, but a lot of plays.  Their third baseman made an over-the-shoulder backhand grab on the edge of the outfield of a ball my son hit with the bases loaded and two-out which would have blown the game wide open.  And another kid on their team dropped a pop-up but still had the wherewithal to pick it up and throw it to second to get the runner who was on first.  And we made plays – a two-out bases loaded come backer to get of a jam and a 5-to-4 get the lead runner play to shut down another inning.

And when the potential for controversy reared its ugly head when our first baseman dropped a ball thrown to him after making a great stretch which the umpire missed, it was over before it could even start when the opposing coach yelled out “nice play!”  Hats off to him.

In winning, my son’s team clinched first place for the regular season and to watch them emulate their heroes with the pitcher and catcher jumping into each other’s arms to celebrate and then quickly stop and lineup to shake hands was to be reminded about all that is good about youth sports.  Because isn’t one of the things we cherish about them playing is that it teaches our children about winning and losing and how to handle both.

The other coach is a good friend who played baseball in college.  We often discuss the crazy things we’ve seen this year and debate whether having played in college provides a perspective that makes it a bit easier to remember they’re just little kids playing a game.  The thing we always agree on is knowing the game is pivotal as a coach.

I knew he wouldn’t react to the out call on the dropped ball at first.  And I knew that meant that the coaches could get out of the kids’ way.

To paraphrase Skip, they threw the ball, they hit the ball and they caught the ball.  The game was a pleasure to coach and an even greater joy to watch.  It’s amazing what can happen the kids are just left to play ball.