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Is your child ready for travel ball?

In October 2011 on November 11, 2011 at 10:15 am

Regardless of the sport, there seems to be no shortage of travel teams here in South Florida.  The great year round weather gives our children the opportunity to play any sport, any time of the year, all year round.  It appears that many parents and coaches are leaving their local optimist leagues, (rec ball),  to give the child the opportunity to play on travel teams for various reasons.

As a parent and coach of a soon to be 12 year, I’ve questioned myself whether it’s time for my son to join a travel team.  I’ve come to believe that there although there are many factors in the decision, there is one factor that supersedes all.  Does YOUR CHILD really want to play travel? Did they bring it up on their own ?  Or is it you, as a parent,  that is driving “their” decision to play?

If your child wakes up in the morning and the first thing they do is turn on ESPN to watch highlights of their favorite sport, if they can rattle off the names of players on their favorite teams, if they play that particular sport during THEIR free time with friends when they have options to do other activities, then it’s pretty easy to say they would welcome the commitment to travel.  However, if  they complain about having to go to practice for various reasons, and it seems more of a chore to them, then you may want to reconsider.

Over the years, I’ve come across several personal friends and family members that felt it was in the best interest of their child to play on a travel team without asking their child if they were interested.  They had their children play on travel teams when they were as young as 7 years old.  These kids played on teams that traveled hours across the state, sometimes out of state,  and played as many as 3 games a day on the weekend for 8-10 hours a day.  Some of these parents wanted their child to eventually play on the  high school team and were hopeful that would increase their chances.  Some saw it as a way to earn a college scholarship by excelling at that sport.  Some may even be hopeful of their child becoming a professional athlete despite the odds. Unfortunately, by the time their children attended high school, they had no desire to play despite being very good players.  In these instances, the child was not only “burned out” but they never truly wanted to put in the time and effort- in essence, it was a chore to them.  It was their parents imposing their will on them to play and eventually it backfired.

So here are some other points you may want to consider, in no particular order,  when making the decision to travel:

* Is your child considered one of the better players on their team/league?

* Does he/she enjoying practicing that sport in order to improve?  Are they willing to train? Or do they only seem interested in playing in games?

* Are they “competitive” by nature?  Do they have a drive and desire to play and practice at a high level?

* Do they continue to work hard when “going gets tough”?  (Players that are used to dominating may have trouble accepting that they are no longer one of the best).

So is your child ready to play travel?  Well, if you can answer “yes” to all of above- I would say “Go for It”!  As for my son- I’m giving it the green light.  However, next we need to find a travel team that meets our needs for him and our family.  But that’s a topic for another blog!

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Setting expectations for sportsmanship

In October 2011 on October 23, 2011 at 3:00 pm

Just completed my third of three games this weekend at the ballpark with my 12 and under baseball team and realized I need to continue to teach my players my expectations about playing with class and sportsmanship.  During the hard fought game I was disappointed we “stooped” to level of a team that seemed more interested in “showmanship” and not sportsmanship.
In the heat of the battle, emotions may start to rise as the competition between two teams increase and the outcome of the game is still in the balance.  This is when we are at high risk for lowering our standards of good sportsmanship and letting our emotions get the best of us.  So who’s at fault? Well, at times it’s all of us.  Coaches, players, and parents.

So what expectations should we set with our teams?  These are just a few:

Cheer for your own team and keep it positive.  Players, (and parents), cheering on a teammate and chanting “Lets Go (name of your team), is all in fun.  However, making remarks directed at the other team or players need to be avoided.  Laughing at opponents for making mistakes or taunting is unacceptable in any sport.  Remind your players about the embarrassment they feel when they are singled out after they’ve made a mistake.

Tell players not to comment on negative remarks made by the other team. EVER!  If the head coach or parents feel the other team is crossing the line, the head coach can pull the umpire or referee aside and quietly voice his concerns.  Making remarks toward the other team, parents, or coaches may only make the situation worst.  Although it may be difficult to tolerate the remarks- take the “higher road”.  I’m sure we’ve all seen on the news the countless occasions of youth sporting events gone bad and many times it stems from negative comments in the stands.

In addition, here are just a couple of examples of negative comments I would try to avoid:

One comment  I’ve heard on the baseball field by many of us, (coaches, parents, and players alike), is: “Throw the ball over the plate, these kid won’t swing, or this kid can’t hit, or “It’s the bottom of the lineup-these kids can’t hit! ” Although it may seem like a harmless instruction to the pitcher, you are actually degrading the hitter.  We can send the same message with a positive spin- for example: “Let him swing the bat”… Make him earn his way on base”, and perhaps even, “Let your defense make a play.”

On the football field or in the stands I’ve heard the following regarding tackling a player: “Make it hurt”, “Clobber him”, “Take him out”, or some other remark hinting at taking a shot at player as to knock him out of the game.  Although football is a physical game, comments should not  imply intentionally injuring a player.  I can’t imagine any parent in the stands wanting to hear an opposing team intentionally trying to injure their child.

Also, remember to set expectations for the end of the game when teams line up to shake hands.  Teach players to simply give a high 5  with a  statement of “good game” to their opponent and quickly return to their sideline or dugout.

In closing, kids need to be taught the expectations associated with playing with class and sportsmanship.  Additionally, it’s important to share these expectations with parents. By modeling positive behavior and teaching these expectations during practices and games we can assure that our time at the park is enjoyable experience.

Unwritten rule of sports: Don’t run up the score

In October 2011 on October 16, 2011 at 3:31 pm

At all levels of sport, from youth leagues to the pros, they are times when one team in the game is completely dominating the other.  Sometimes one team is just physically bigger and stronger, or even more skilled than their opponent.  Others times the “blowout” may just be the result of one team having a completely bad game.  Regardless of the reason for the mismatch on that occasion, coaches should use that time to teach his players one of the unwritten rules of sports: Not running up the score.  Coaches should teach players that not running up the score is not to be confused with playing less than 100%.  It’s about displaying good sportsmanship and not kicking your opponent when they’re down.  Here are just a few examples of coaches running up scores.

I’ve witness coaches in different sports guilty of leaving in their “best players” when a game has gotten out of hand.  It’s apparent their team has no chance of losing but they refuse to make substitutions.  These coaches often forget that there are many benefits to making substitutions.  It allows the inexperienced players the opportunity to learn other positions.  It gives them the experience they need to become better and to learn the game.  And most of all: It makes the game fun!

Some more sport specific examples of running up the score are:

Baseball:  Players stealing bases and bunting when their team has a big lead.  This is a big “NO NO”, especially in higher levels of competition. Although it’s somewhat subjective as to how many runs is a comfortable lead in youth baseball, it’s probably safe to say that if your team is up by 10 runs or more, it’s probably time to hold off. (Major league baseball pitchers have on occasion intentionally hit a player the next time they come to bat for breaking this unwritten rule)!

Football: Passing the ball with a large lead.  In football, it may be easier to determine if your lead is comfortable enough because of the time clock.  In youth football, leads of 28 points or more in the 4th quarter should probably lead to using the running game.  Incomplete passes at this point in the game extend the game unneccessarily and only allow players more time to get injured.  So run out the clock and get them off the field quickly, safely, and ready for their next game.

Basketball:  Full or half court press.  I’m still shaking my head on what I witnessed this summer at a 12 and under youth basketball game.  In the 4th quarter of a game and a 40-4 lead, the head coach continued to have his players run a full court press (with his starters still in the game- I’m not making this up)!  All I can remember were the looks on the faces of the kids on the bench- bored and probably wondering why they weren’t in the game.

So coaches and parents , next time you’re on the fortunate side of a mismatch, remember one of the unwritten rules of sports and don’t run up the score!

(I would love to hear from soccer parents and other youth sports parents for examples of “running up the score” in games you attended- I look forward to hearing your comments!)

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