Thursday, December 16, 2010

They Don't Make 'em Like Bob Feller Anymore

Baseball legend Bob Feller died yesterday at the age of 92. It's almost hard to believe the outspoken, dominant right handed pitcher and war hero was mortal, when you consider his amazing life.

He came from humble beginnings, but rose to stardom quickly. He was signed by the Cleveland Indians at age 16, and struck out 15 batters in his Major League debut at the age of 17. He returned to high school after the season for his senior year. His graduation ceremony was broadcast by NBC on national radio.

Feller would have won almost 400 games if he had not given four years of his career to the US Navy during World War II. He served on the battleship Alabama and saw action in the North Atlantic and the Pacific.

He pitched as recently as last year at age 90 in the Baseball Hall of Fame Classic in Cooperstown.

Feller was one of the hardest throwers ever. But more importantly, he was a great American. He was the "Ace of the Greatest Generation." It's hard to find heroes like him anymore.

Monday, December 13, 2010

How to Balance Sports and Family

We may not all be as perfect as the happy family on the left (even the dog is happy), but we can at least have a healthy balance between youth sports and family life. Moms Team offers nine ways to achieve that balance.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Book Review: Until It Hurts by Mark Hyman

There has been plenty of talk nationally about Mark Hyman's latest book, Until It Hurts, since its release about a year ago. And a couple of parents in our own league have mentioned it to me. So I decided to give it a read and report back.

Hyman's book is essentially about what he calls the "hostile takeover" of youth sports by adults. As he says in his introduction, "adults rule youth sports." It isn't a new trend. It has gone on for decades.

Hyman uses anecdotes and statistics to show the disturbing patterns of behavior among many misguided and ultra-competitive parents and coaches throughout various sports, both team and individual. One story is that of his own family and what led to his son's Tommy John Surgery.

Throughout the book, Hyman examines a number of things considered wrong with today's youth sports culture:

- The big business it has become, including national TV broadcasts;

- Parents who relentlessly pursue athletic success for their kids, over-scheduling them to the point of exhaustion, with hopes of rare college scholarships, even more rare million dollar contracts, or just the social status of having raised an elite athlete;

- Early sport specialization and adults who push athletes to be the best, no matter the toll it takes on their minds and bodies, sometimes working them to the point of injury; and

- The focus on winning over fun, fairness and health.

Hyman is an advocate for organizations designed with fun and the best interests of the kids in mind. He says we should be listening to doctors' advice, and to what the kids themselves have to say about what they want to pursue and how they want their athletic experiences to be.

He's done a good job of painting an honest picture of what youth sports in America has become, although some of the anecdotes could be considered extreme cases. This book is an important look into what is best for kids and what we, the parents and coaches of young athletes should keep in mind as we guide them.

Until It Hurts by Mark Hyman is currently available at Amazon for around $10.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

How Much Exercise Does Your Practice Provide?

It is widely accepted that youth sports are beneficial for general health and obesity prevention. Experts recommend an hour of moderate to rigorous physical activity per day. But a new study conducted by San Diego State University and UC-San Diego suggests what we may have suspected about organized team sports practices.

Researchers placed accelerometers on 200 young soccer, baseball and softball players aged 7-14 to measure how much activity they were getting in practice. The findings show that overall, only 24% of participants met the one hour recommendation during their team's practice. Baseball, and especially softball players, got significantly less physical activity. Check out the study for all the details.

This tells us that (1) team sports aren't enough - school PE and neighborhood recreation are very important to the health of our nation's youth, and (2) our practices could probably include more exercise.

How can we get our players moving more in practice? Here are some ideas. If you have other suggestions, please leave a comment below.

- Have the team run a couple of warm-up laps before starting. This, followed by stretching, also helps prevent injuries.

- Practice baserunning often. Baserunning is a quarter of the game (pitching, hitting, fielding and baserunning) and often gets neglected.

- Utilize stations to keep the players engaged and minimize standing around waiting. Use the nets and batting cages for hitting stations like tees, soft toss and BP.

- After your instruction periods, reward the team with an intrasquad scrimmage or quick game of Pull-the-Trigger. This not only gets the players moving, but it's fun and sends them home wanting more.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Girls Can Play Baseball Too

Found a website for an organization called Baseball For All, which promotes the idea of girls playing baseball, not only in youth leagues, but beyond.

Baseball For All (BFA) is managed by Justine Siegal, who played competitive women's baseball and later served as a coach for a professional men's team, the Brockton (MA) Rox. The organization provides opportunities and instruction for girls wanting to continue with baseball beyond the young age that most are encouraged to make the switch to softball. The website includes some good information, including an informative education page.

Myers Park Trinity's history includes several standout female players. Katie Boyer was the first, playing for Al Browne in 1978. Some of her teammates actually thought she was a boy, until one of them asked the coach one day, "Why do you always call him Katie?"  Krissy Culler may have been the best, earning a spot on the league's Major League All-Star team. One of my own favorite players, Betsy Barnhardt, was an outstanding catcher and pitcher for AB.

So while the league does have a quality softball program, there are options for those girls wanting to stick with hardball. And they can excel at it. Don't believe me? Check out the story of Chelsea Baker on ESPN E:60.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Strength Training for Kids

A recent NY Times article takes a look at a study regarding the safety and potential benefits of youth strength training.

There has been a long-held belief that kids could not gain strength from any kind of weight training, and that it could even stunt their growth or cause growth plate damage. But the latest research indicates that kids actually benefit from such exercise, not by bulking up, but by creating more efficient interaction between the nervous system and muscles.

Doctors do not advocate putting kids in the weight room, but do encourage other types of fun strength training activities that get kids away from the computer screen or tv and will prepare their bodies for the sports they play. This makes a lot of sense, especially for baseball and softball, those activities that develop core and leg strength - something our more serious ballplayers might want to consider this offseason.