Sunday, December 16, 2012

Teach Your Player to Coach Himself

I had a great hitting session today with a young player who has improved his swing each week that we've worked together. This was only his third lesson with me, but he has quickly learned the swing well enough to just about coach himself. He knows what a correct swing should look and feel like, and he knows his own tendencies so well that he can usually tell me what he did wrong any time he doesn't drive the ball. If he pulls a ground ball, he may say "rolled." Or if he pops it up, he might say "chopped." We both know what he means, and he's usually right. Knowing what happened allows him to make an adjustment on his next swing.

The best thing I can do for a player is give him the knowledge necessary to coach himself. As an instructor, I can't be with him for every practice, game or tryout. But if he can

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Selected Reading Material 12-5-12

Prepare the Child for the Path, Not the Path for the Child by Michael Boyle,  -  GREAT article about letting youth sports teach important life lessons on how to succeed and fail. "Those parents who consistently prepare the path for the child by confronting teachers and coaches, changing teams, changing leagues and changing schools are making life-long losers out of their children." The truth hurts.

At Age Thirteen, Say Goodbye to Hover Mothers and Helicopter Dads by Tom Swyers  -  While we're on the subject.... Some good advice on allowing your kids to gain some valuable experience handling their own problems.

The Trophy Mom's Gift Guide for the Sports Mom  -  For the most important person on your list. Don't think I'll get the hockey pants though.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Parental Instincts and Youth Sports

I just read a good article by AP writer Martha Irvine about the extremes families go to these days to help their kids succeed in youth sports. Yes - more on travel ball, "elite" training and spending thousands of dollars on tournaments, gear, gas, etc. But this is pretty interesting. Check it out: To Parents, Youth Sports An 'Athletic Arms Race.'  Great title, by the way.

The article is filled with quotes that jump out at me:

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

A Case for Finishing Out Your Little League Days

The growing influence of travel ball has been discussed before on this site. You don't need to look far - just click on the Travel Ball search label in the right hand column - to find the perspectives of various people on specialization, elitism, burnout, etc.

But it seems that the tug from travel ball programs is becoming stronger than ever. And the problem is that it's starting earlier and earlier. Many travel teams are a business. They are in the business of relabeling your child - the same child that may still watch cartoons and play with Legos - as a Division I NCAA baseball prospect. To make enough money to support that business, the owner must sell his product. He will promise "better baseball" and make you feel special. He will impress you with fancy gear and tournament trips. And he may pressure you to buy in now, because if you don't fully commit to him now, his offer may not be there a few months down the road. He may even criticize his competition (like your son's own league) and present you with an ultimatum. These are of course major red flags that would make me turn and run the other way. After all, if he places no value on your son's own loyalty and commitment to his current situation, do you think he is going to be loyal to your son when a better player or opportunity comes along? Of course not.

Your travel ball coach may be very good at what he does. He may really offer a quality program and a good opportunity. He may even be that former professional baseball player that also happens to be a good coach. But what he won't tell you is that he needs you. Businesses need customers, and they want as many as they can get. So if you don't give in to his ultimatum and take the deal now - especially if your son is a good player - he will probably still take your son when he's ready. The offer will most likely still stand in a few months. Because he needs your talented ball player to represent his business... not to mention your money.

So while many travel ball programs indeed offer quality instruction and a great opportunity for your son, this is an argument for playing out your Little League days, before completely jumping ship to that travel team. I speak from experience. I have coached talented players - some that became Division I type talent. They played through their 12-year-old season. They had fun and learned their fundamentals in Little League, and then truly developed their talent between 13 and 18. And they always come back. They come back to the Little League park years down the road and soak up the community atmosphere as if it were the Fountain of Youth. They ask about the league, the teams, the fields. They want to help coach. They watch games. They tell stories from their playing days, especially that special 12-year-old season.

They have fond memories of that time in their lives. That was the last time they were just a kid playing a game. That was when they were the kings of the park - the big dogs. That was the last time that baseball was just fun, before they needed to "work" at their game and "develop" as a player. They would hang out at the park all day on Saturday with their baseball friends - the same guys they had been with since T-Ball... the same guys they would spend that last summer with, making the proverbial "run at Williamsport."

Why would you want throw that away? Why would you want your son to grow up so fast? I know I don't want that for my kids. My oldest is heading into his own 12-year-old year. He's a pretty good player. But even if he were Bryce Harper himself, I would absolutely want him to play out his Little League days. Because it is a life experience, not just a baseball experience. He is creating memories and building confidence that will stay with him forever. He loves being at the park. He loves his regular season and all-star teams and he is committed to them. The commitment and loyalty he has developed over the years is an important life lesson - more important than his development as a baseball player. "Better baseball" can wait. If he's that good, that "elite" team will gladly take him when he's done being a kid. And then no matter how far he goes in baseball, he will be another one that comes back, with fond memories of the days when the game was just fun.

I came back. My loyalty to the same regular season team for four years helped make me a better person. And then the thrill of representing my league in 12-year-old all-stars was the defining baseball moment of my life. I was hooked from that point on - as a player, a fan, and later a coach. The park would become a home away from home, and the league would always welcome me back with open arms. Without that special summer, everything would be different. I remember the feeling like it was yesterday. I remember my teammates. I remember the significance of representing Myers Park. After that, it's a blur until high school - the next time I would represent something special, something bigger than myself. So I came back, just like the others. And I don't want to leave. Why would you?

Friday, November 16, 2012

Selected Reading Material 11-16-12

Don't Let Your Son Grow Up To Be Like Pedro Cerrano by Kevin at SportsDadHub  -  Superstitions can be fun and boost confidence, but they can also distract young players from what really leads to success. Yo bartender, Jobu needs a refill.

The 3 Biggest Mistakes Kids Make While Playing Catch... by Chad Rodgers at Show-Me Strength  -  Just to beat the horse some more - kids would improve their mechanics more quickly if they would always throw with a purpose. I especially like #1 and #2 here.

Off Season Best Time For Youth Baseball Coaches to Cement Philosophy by Dan Clemens  -  Plan ahead and hold yourself to making the right decisions when you get into the heat of the moment. This is why we have rules - you can't trust coaches to always do the right thing when competitive fires starts burning.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Little League Posts 50/70 Info Page

Details on the new Intermediate (50/70) Division continue to trickle in from Little League Baseball. Williamsport recently added a Resource Page to it's website with an FAQ section that previews some of the rules that should be announced soon.

I'm glad to know that our league has decided not to offer a 50/70 division as part of our regular season yet. I don't think it's a good option for 11-year-old rec players. I also think it's a flawed game, with base stealing having far too big of an impact on the game. Compared to Majors, you're adding only 10 feet of base paths, but allowing runners to take leads and take off when the pitcher starts his delivery.

After reading the new FAQ, it gets worse. The best part about 50/70 was the 50 - the fact that the mound would be backed up to a slightly safer distance. So much for that benefit. Little League has apparently decided that big-barrel bats (2 5/8") will be used in this new division. BBCOR or not, I think this is a big mistake. You only have to picture a big, strong 13-year-old hitting against an 11-year-old pitcher using a large-barreled bat to know that this is dangerous.

So now there is no safe option for 11-12-year-old Little League pitchers. You play 46/60 and you're facing composite bats (and the approved ones still pack a whole lot of punch). Or you play 50/70 and you're facing big-barrels. This is not good. Take a look at that Little League logo up there at the top of this post - all of a sudden "COURAGE" really begins to stand out.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Super Slow-Mo Makes Us All Students of the Game

This is so cool. Check out the following compilation of Fox Sports "X-Mo" shots from the NLCS. We've come a long way since the days of this. With such easy accessability to high definition super slow motion footage today, we all can't help but be students of the game. And the game will change as a result. The next generation of ballplayers will be more knowledgable about the mechanics of the game than any before it.

Selected Reading Material 10-24-12

7 Things Parents Do to Make Their Kids Hate Sports by All Pro Dad  -  Nice list of what not to do. Good comments too. Number 5 is probably the most common one I see.

Troubleshooting Baseball Hitting: Timing is Not Always the Problem by Jay Kolster, Cressey Performance  -  Good article on the mechanics that can help a hitter make timing a little less of a problem. Not enough young players focus on (or even know about) the correct positioning of the elbows and knees.

Trust Your Skills (Don't Think Too Much) by Jeffrey Rhoads, Inside Youth Sports  -  This one is important for young athletes. All the instruction and practice in the world won't matter if you can't relax and let it flow.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

How a Real Boy Throws

Quick revisit to the Washington Post article previously mentioned about the differences in the average throwing motions of boys and girls. The article was fine, but the graphic of how a boy throws was pretty comical:

Sorry - couldn't just let that go. Here is how a real boy that has any success in baseball actually throws. His shoulders are level as he takes the ball back. The elbows bend. The hips rotate. There is a follow through. I could go on....

Thursday, September 20, 2012

What To Teach Your 4-Year-Old Future Star

As a youth coach and instructor, I have the task of teaching players how to fix their mechanical flaws. Many of them consistently throw, catch or swing in a fundamentally incorrect manner. Every young player has a bad habit or ten, and bad habits are hard to break, especially as they age.

I often wish that more kids were taught a few basic things when they were around the age of three or four. If they learn it then, it's like riding a bike - they'll never forget it. Their muscle memory will be correctly programmed for life.

So for all the proactive dads of preschool prospects out there, here are some basic things you may want to teach your kid about baseball. Your wife will give you grief, but don't feel guilty. If he winds up playing baseball and loves the game, he'll eventually thank you for helping him succeed and have fun. He may not even play beyond Little League, but those Little League days will be less of a struggle.

1. Throwing:  Many young kids do not just naturally pick up a ball and throw it correctly. If you want to lay the groundwork for an accurate, safe and powerful throwing motion down the road, show him how to properly separate the hands and take the ball back. Demonstrate how to close the front shoulder and hip to his target and separate his hands with the fingers on top of (not behind) the ball and thumbs pointed down. Both hands will go up and away from the body with the palms away. I tell kids to show the front palm (the glove) to the target and the back palm (the ball) to whatever is behind them, nearly opposite the target. Show it and throw it. Otherwise the throw may be more of a push, with less velocity and more stress on the arm. Pulling the front arm back into the body (tucking the glove) at the point of release will help too.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Selected Reading Material 9-18-12

How To Brag About Your Kids by Clay Nichols, Dad Labs  -  I thought I was better than this. But I'm guilty of most of these bragging techniques. Pretty shameful, and funny.

Throw Like a Girl? You Can Do Better by Tamar Haspel, Washington Post  -  Analysis of the mechanical differences in the average throwing motions of boys and girls. Unfortunately the graphic at the top depicts a boy that clearly never made it past tee ball. More on that later...

MLB Diamond Demo: Pitching Flaws by Rick Peterson, Baltimore Orioles Pitching Director  -  Nothing to actually read here, but a great video demonstration on some of the absolute most important aspects of proper pitching mechanics. Must see tv for coaches and parents of pitchers.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Selected Reading Material 9-7-12

Is Your Child's Youth Coach a Good Teacher? by Jeffrey Rhoads, Inside Youth Sports  -  Former players don't necessarily make good coaches. You're either a good teacher or you're not.

Why Focusing Skills Are Critical for Young Athletes by Dr. Patrick Cohn  -  Think small. Focus on the details of how to execute the play. Thinking about results or what others think is a major performance distraction.

Alas, Even Little League is Mired in Politics by Bruce Maiman, The Sacramento Bee  -  Duh... As usual, it's the parents that are the problem.

Friday, August 10, 2012

What To Accomplish This Fall

Little League Fall Ball is the Spring Training of youth baseball. It's an opportunity for players to work on their skills in a low-pressure environment. Many players are learning new skills, like pitching and catching, and are just beginning to gain confidence. Others are trying to become consistent hitters, or better fielders. The instructional aspect of a good Fall Ball program creates an ideal environment for player development.

Here is a list of what players can accomplish this fall:

1. Fix Your Swing Mechanics. Don't just take BP and accept wherever you're hitting the ball as long as it's hit hard. Learn correct swing mechanics, practice them on a tee and in front of a mirror. Then put it all to use in BP. Learn from the result of each swing. If you're not hitting line drives, there is a reason. Fix it. Every player has something to work on.

2. Focus on Throwing Mechanics. You can't pitch well unless you first learn to throw correctly. Pay close attention in warm-ups to the mechanics of each throw - how the hands are separating, how the ball is positioned during the stride, what the lead arm is doing, etc. Don't just play catch. Throw with a purpose and make sure you're repeating good habits, not bad ones.

3. Get Some Pitching Experience. The low-stress atmosphere of fall games is a great time for inexperienced pitchers to get some innings. Focus on the mechanics you've learned, not what the batter does with the pitch. It's about you, not him. If you execute pitches the way they are supposed to be executed, be satisfied and keep doing it, regardless of whether he hits it or not. You can't control what the batter does, so it's misguided focus. Thinking about results will only distract you from executing each pitch with correct mechanics. The more you pitch, the more comfortable, and therefore confident you will become on the mound. Then when the games matter next spring, you'll be armed with a good delivery and the confidence to go with it.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Selected Reading Material 8-8-12

Tips On How To Handle Setbacks by Mike Jacobs, Evansville Courier & Press  -  How yo move on and plan for future success.

Long Term Baseball Development: Attention to Detail Matters by Eric Cressey, Cressey Performance  -  Focus and get something out of your warm-up throwing and flexibility exercises.

Dan Duquette On the Young Pitchers and Their Struggles by Steve Melewski, MASN Sports  -  Some insights on how one Major League organization places a priority on biomechanical analysis and developing a repeatable correct delivery.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Good & Bad Baseball Mechanics on Display at the Olympics

Baseball is unfortunately not an Olympic sport anymore. They had to make room for trampoline and women's wrestling, I guess. But that doesn't mean there aren't plenty of good examples of some of the most important mechanics that go into a good baseball swing or pitching motion.

I use a various Olympic sports on a regular basis as a way to teach how a baseball player's body should or should not move in order to gain more power, quickness and consistency. Here are some examples that are currently being broadcast from London:

Diving.  A baseball player's core is his main source of power. How quickly and powerfully he is able to rotate his core has a direct effect on how much energy is transferred to the baseball. Hitters are able to rotate quicker by pulling the bat through the zone with their hands and elbows close to the body. A compact swing is a quick swing. Similarly, pitchers are able to rotate quicker by tucking the lead arm back into their body. This is like a Olympic diver controlling the rate at which his or her body turns during a mid air twist. When the arms are in, the body twists quickly with little resistance. When the arms are extended away from the body, the additional weight outside the diver's center of gravity slows the rate of rotation. This type of twisting can also be seen in gymnastics or the aforementioned trampoline. If this were the Winter Olympics, the best example would be figure skating.

Tennis / Table Tennis.  A good tennis stroke is an example of how not to swing a baseball bat. A topspin forehand where the wrist rolls over through contact creates a shot where the ball dives back to the playing surface before reaching the base line. This is somewhat like a pulled ground ball in baseball - if the top hand rolls over as contact is being made, the barrel is raised up and around to the upper outside corner of the baseball, likely resulting in a grounder to the shortstop. A backspin drop shot in tennis is achieved by chopping down through the bottom of the ball with an abbreviated finish - the equivalent of an infield pop-up. In order for a hitter to get maximum carry on the baseball, he must avoid the early rolling of the wrists. Keeping the top hand under the handle at the point of contact as he pulls the knob of the bat forward and up through the ball into a high finish will result in backspin line drives with some distance. If the batter continues down through contact into a low finish, he will end up with that drop shot he does not want.

Shot Put.  Unlike the shot put, a pitcher's delivery is more of a pull than a push. As he separates his hands and strides toward home, the ball should be turned away from his body. He then uses his front side - hip, elbow and shoulder - to pull the ball forward with power and velocity. If the pitcher separates his hands into a position where the ball is shown toward third base, he will end up pushing the ball more like the shot putter, with much less velocity.

Javelin.  There are several similarities among the mechanics of pitching and javelin. Most noticeable is the firm front leg, which sends the energy created by the stride up into the core rotation, and ultimately the javelin/baseball. With hitting, we call it "putting on the brake," like in a car, and the stride leg is completely braced like the javelin thrower. Another mechanical similarity on display is the lead arm. As the javelin is being released, the lead elbow is pulled into the body for efficient rotation and more power from the front side. This is nearly identical to a top level pitcher.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Baseball Doesn't Have To Be So Expensive

There's been a lot of web chatter about how much money parents spend on youth sports these days, baseball included. There are $200 bats, snazzy gear bags, brand new cleats, tournament fees, travel expenses, heat gear, cold gear, etc., etc.... so much to spend to help your kid keep up with the Joneses.

But it doesn't have to be that way. We don't have to always hand the best products and experiences to our children on a silver platter. It wasn't all that long ago that we swung cheap hunk-o-metal bats while wearing Toughskins and sneakers. I'm not against modern improvements to the game, but there are ways to do youth baseball without dipping into that home equity line. Here are some:

1. Buy last year's bat model. It may not have this year's paint job, but it's the same bat and it's $100 less.

2. Or better yet - just use the team gear. Most youth teams have their own bats, helmets and catcher's gear. If they don't, they should.

3. Shop online for discount clothing and cleats. Baseball pants, sliding shorts, undershirts, gear bags, gloves... You can find it all at clearance prices just like anything else.

4. Play Little League Baseball. No child is turned away because of an inability to pay.

5. Play on one team at a time. Playing for (and paying for) two teams during the same season can lead to overuse injuries anyway. Save your money and your kid's elbow.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

What I Have Learned This Year

Spring, summer and fall... coaching youth baseball can be a year round business. The past year in particular has been a learning experience is several ways. Here's what I know now:

1. Having your son on the team is tough. No matter how well you handle it at the ballpark, the emotional aspect is stressful.

2. There are a lot of head cases in youth baseball - kids and adults.

3. You can't over-value smart, confident players. Give me the experienced, confident kid that can be molded into a reliable ballplayer.

4. Having someone else coach your son can be a great experience for all involved.

5. The list of people you can really trust and rely on is very small. Appreciate them.

6. This game takes its toll physically. It is not for 39-year-olds.

7. Your catcher's blocking skills can make or break your season.

8. It's hard to do much with a choppy swing.

9. You may think you know your defensive lineup at the beginning of the season. But you don't.

10. Taking a season off can be the best move you make.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Selected Reading Material 5-30-12

How Efficient Pitching Mechanics Can Produce More Velocity With Less Stress To the Arm by Dick Mills  -  Great analysis about keeping your mechanics simple and eliminating unnecessary movements.

10 Reasons Dad May Not Want to Coach a Youth Baseball Team  -  Not just the obvious reasons.

How To Deal With the Sports Parents Social Pecking Order by Bob Cook, Forbes  -  You don't have to be friends with the other parents on the sidelines.

Local Man Brings 'Hoosiers' Back to Life by Kyle Neddenriep, Indianapolis Star  -  Because this is the best sports movie ever and there can't be a real sequel.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Advice From the All-Time Hit King

ESPN has announced another 30 for 30 volume of films set to begin this fall. Beginning this week, Bill Simmons and will stream "30 for 30 Shorts" on a monthly basis. The first short film is called Here Now, an eight minute look into the current life of Pete Rose, the all-time hits leader banned from baseball for gambling.

The story of Pete Rose is a sad one, but you have to respect the way he played the game: "all out," as we are currently seeing from Bryce Harper. And in the middle of this short film, Rose offers some great advice for young players:

1. Be aggressive.
2. Be more aggressive.
3. Never be satisfied.

I love that approach to baseball and would love to see my team playing like that right now. We've been saying it all season: "Go for it." You have to plan on ripping the ball, or the ball being ripped to you in the field. And when it happens you have to go for it, not even considering the possibility of failure. If you play the game trying to avoid mistakes, you'll never accomplish anything. Play aggressively and there should be no regrets after the game, no matter how many times you fail.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Selected Reading Material 5-14-12

How Much Training Is Too Much for Young Athletes?  by Jill Barker, Montreal Gazette  -  More on specialization, overuse and mental burnout.

Game's Top Two Pitching Prospects May Be Igniting a Revolution  by Albert Chen, Sports Illustrated  -  Dylan Bundy and Trevor Bauer will be prominent test cases for or against extreme long-toss, depending on whether or not they have healthy careers.

Rocket Science Alert: Strength Training for Pitchers STILL Improves Throwing Velocity  by Eric Cressey, Cressey Performance  -  A new study shows that any type of strength training is beneficial to pitchers.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Little League Approves 50/70 Division for 2013

Little League International has announced voting results from its Regional Round Table agenda items. As was expected months ago, a permanent 50/70 baseball division was approved for play in 2013.

Since two thirds of voting District Administrators supported the measure, it was automatically approved by Little League's Board of Directors. Complete voting results on all agenda items are posted here. Among the items that failed was a proposal to ban the slash play (fake bunt / swing away) in Majors and Minors. This and any other items can be revisited in the future.

While the specific rules of the new 50/70 division are yet to be determined, the approved agenda item dictates that it will be for ages 11-13. Should leagues choose to do so, it appears that it can co-exist with the Major League division. It will include a postseason international tournament and World Series.

We'll have to wait and see about some important details.... Will big barrel bats be allowed? I hope not. An additional four feet of pitching distance is not enough to safely allow big barrels. Will the fences have to be backed up to beyond 200 ft? Perhaps, with 13-year-olds playing, but many leagues will be unable to do so. Will there be any restrictions on stealing bases? I hope so. If the base runner can take a lead of any distance and steal before the pitcher releases the ball, and the catcher has a longer throw, then an additional 10 feet of base path is not enough. It will be a flawed game with way too many easily stolen bases.

It will be interesting to see what the rules end up being. That will help determine how many leagues choose to participate. But judging from the voting results, I have to think that this is the direction that most leagues will go. I wouldn't be surprised if within 3-5 years, the Williamsport/ESPN show is a 50/70 game. It's just a matter of hammering out some details that work.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Bryce Harper Swing Mechanics

The "Chosen One" has arrived and is here to stay. Bryce Harper of the Washington Nationals, the No. 1 overall pick of the 2010 MLB Draft, is the most exciting player in the game. Watch the guy play, kids. He makes great catches. He throws laser beams. He turns singles into doubles. He steals home. He even wears his socks well.

Bryce Harper plays the game the right way. All out, 100% all the time. He is electric on the field and it's going to be contagious in the Nats dugout.

His swing generates an amazing amount of power. He loads his hands to the max. His braced front leg sends every bit of energy into his hip rotation. And he hits to all fields, pulling his hands and staying inside the ball. Check it out:

Friday, May 4, 2012

Selected Reading Material 5-3-12

The 8 Most Annoying Sports Parents by Kevin at Sports Dad Hub  -  Some familiar characters to watch out for here.

Roundtable: Is 155 Pitches Too Many? at ESPN Boston  -  A lengthy discussion about when to say when, in response to a recent high school game with very high pitch counts. I attended a game this season where a high schooler threw 120 pitches in a meaningless game, and it was uncomfortable to watch.

Youth Sports Are Expensive? by Rick Wolff  -  Yes, we all know youth sports cost money.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Top 10 Youth Pitching Flaws

My last top ten list dealt with youth swing flaws. Today I will tackle a more important topic - pitching flaws. A mechanical problem on the mound can lead to a lot of walks or hits, or even worse, an arm injury. Here are the most common flaws that I have seen in working with youth pitchers over the last several years. The older the player, the harder these are to fix.

1. Striding Too Short.  A short stride can mess up a lot of things:  front side stability, velocity, release point, follow through... Stride length should be 85-100% of a pitcher's height. That can be a tall order for a young pitcher that may not have the strength and athleticism yet to support such a stride. But if his stride is too short, he won't be able to support himself anyway. This very important mechanical aspect can be obtained through practice.

2. Incorrect Hand Separation.  Many young players begin their throwing motion incorrectly by taking the ball up and out of the glove with their fingers behind the ball and their thumb up. This leads to pushing the baseball with less energy and more stress on the arm. Pitchers should separate with fingers on top of the ball and thumbs down, raising the ball up facing away from the target before pulling the ball forward.

3. Not Getting the Arm Up.  When the front foot lands, it's time to throw. At that most important moment a pitcher's elbows should be shoulder high. The throwing arm should be bent (not past 90 degrees) with the ball up behind the head. If his ball positioning is too low, the pitcher will likely lead with the elbow forward and upward, causing high pitches. This problem is often a result of getting the front foot down too early - either because of rushing the motion or striding too short.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Selected Reading Material 4-18-12

Why President Obama Throws Like a Girl by Eric Cressey  -  An oldie but goodie. Breaking down the medical science behind presidential pitching mechanics, shoe throwing, etc.

Mike Matheny Letter to Parents posted by Kevin Seitzer  -  Before he was manager of the St. Louis Cardinals, Mike Matheny coached a youth team. He lays it all out there for the parents here.

Wanted: Creative Athletes... Needed: To Save the World  by Meagan Frank  -  On the importance of building creative play into organized youth sports practices.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Resist the Urge to Be Elite

Heed this man's advice. The grass isn't always greener on the other side. And I would say it usually isn't.

Here is a good article at Sports Dad Hub by Kevin about his son's experience on a "bad team" (a bad fit for him). Sometimes you have no control over what team you get or who the coach is. Sometimes it's just a not-so-great experience that you must endure. You make the most of it and look forward to better seasons. But sometimes you are faced with a choice, like in this article. Sometimes your kid is coveted by an "elite" team. You are honored, and tempted to leave behind the comfort and fun.

Bad choice. Not worth it. These teams are often "a dime a dozen." They can be a haven for daddyball. Go down that road at a young age and you could be jumping from team to team every six months. Eventually your kid may be so burned out, he quits altogether.

Resist the urge. Baseball is not a job when you're a little kid. Let them have fun. Make some good memories. Teach them the fundamentals. Keep them wanting more. There will be time to be elite later.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Selected Reading Material 4-9-12

Nine Sports Parent Actions That Will Sabotage Your Child's Performance by Janis Meredith - Great advice on what not to do. Remember, your kid is watching you.

Nine Important Don'ts.... by Kirk Mango - Response to the above article. More good advice, including five "do's."

The High Cost of Youth Sports by Doug Glanville, TIME Magazine - "Nothing opens a parent's checkbook like guilt and fear...." Review of Mark Hyman's new book, The Most Expensive Game in Town. And here's some info on his first book, Until It Hurts.

Sports Letter Interview: Author Mark Hyman on the Commercialization of Youth Sports by David Davis - Good interview. Most important quote: "Parenting has become a very competitive activity."

Friday, April 6, 2012

Top 10 Youth Swing Flaws

It's spring break around here. No games for a while. Time to get back to basics and work on the detailed mechanics of the game. My team will be doing a lot of hitting, among other things. Every player is working on something - an adjustment to make - and they know what it is. No one is perfect. They all have at least one flaw and it probably falls into the list below. Here are the top ten swing flaws I see in working with youth players.

1. Rolling the wrists too early. Despite the fact that the barrel is what makes contact with the ball, the hitter should think more about the knob of the bat. If a hitter throws the barrel at the ball with the top hand behind the handle, rather than pulling the knob through contact with the top hand under the handle, the barrel will cast up and around the ball, creating a steady flow of weak ground balls instead of line drives.

2. Lunging. Many young hitters have their legs "backwards." At the point of contact, the front leg should be straight and the back leg bent. A braced front leg keeps the upper body back behind the ball at contact (a wide stance helps). It sends energy up to the hips where it is needed. Lunging forward with a bent front knee causes a loss of energy and lowers the hands under the ball. The upper body and head drift forward and hip rotation is weak.

3. No backside rotation. After the front heel lands, the back knee should turn in to a 90 degree angle. The back heel rotates up to the sky with shoelaces facing the pitcher. If the hitter keeps the heel down, he cannot fully open his main power source, the hips. He also can't get the hands through quick enough - it's an open invitation for an inside fastball on the handle. If he pushes with the back foot rather than rotating, he will pop himself up into a tall position, creating one or both of the above flaws.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

MLB Opening Night

The 2012 Major League Baseball season begins tonight with Cardinals at Marlins on ESPN. For a little primer, check out David Schoenfield's 100 Reasons to Get Excited for MLB. And there is much to look forward to. The game is in a good place these days.

I encourage young players to watch games on TV. Learn the game. Watch how big leaguers carry themselves on the field. Pay attention to the details of the game - the swing mechanics, the fielding techniques, the pitching strategies, the baserunning and defensive situations. Study how the best players swing the bat or pitch the ball. And remember that if you have a DVR, you can pause live TV to get a better look at their mechanics - that's a great way to learn. I like to go frame by frame and break down guys like Justin Upton, Cliff Lee, Robinson Cano and others to see what makes them so good.

This should be a great season. Go Yanks and Bravos, but my prediction is Tigers over D-Backs in 6.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Selected Reading Material 4-2-12

Youth Sports Travel Destination Tournaments: The Original Hunger Games by Stats Dad - Survival of the fittest at Cooperstown Dreams Park.

What Baseball Does to the Soul by Colum McCann, NY Times - Reflections of an Irish soccer fan on family and his love of baseball.

Sports Parenting: A Parent's Role in Raising Athletes in Today's Youth Sports Culture - Part 1 by Brie Isaacson - Advice for parenting elementary school aged athletes.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Neighborhood Games

I came across this post at Sports Dad Hub, about a game called Hotbox. When I was a kid, we called it Pickle - a simple neighborhood game where you have two bases, a fielder at each, and runners that try to steal as many bases as possible. The only hitch is that the fielders can't leave their bases and have to make quick throws to get the runners.

This reminded me of another game we played called Roller Bat. In Roller Bat, there is a batter, who tosses the ball to himself to hit to a group of fielders. If the batted ball is caught in the air by a fielder, that fielder becomes the batter. If the ball is fielded off the ground, the batter lays the bat down square to the fielder and the fielder rolls the ball toward the bat. If the ball hits the bat and then the ground, the fielder becomes the batter. If the ball misses the bat, or it hits the bat and pops up into the batter's hands, he gets to keep hitting.

Simple games, loads of fun. Good stuff to pass on to the next generation. There is always Wiffle Ball too...

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Little League Rules Myths

The runner must slide on a tag play... You must cross 1st Base into foul territory... A tie goes to the runner... The hands are part of the bat...

The above statements are all myths, and only a small handful of the many myths that pop up on Little League fields all over the world. If you want the truth about those and all the other popular myths regarding the Little League rule book, check out this page put together by the Florida District 9 Umpires Association. Good stuff to know.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

What's Better - More Games or More Practice?

I encourage you to read this post by pitching instructor Dick Mills about the rise of young travel/select/challenge baseball teams that place their primary focus on playing as many games as they can, and sacrifice the practice time needed for their players to develop the skills and mechanics necessary to improve and advance in the game. Mills clearly believes that these teams need to place more of an emphasis on skills development.

I agree completely. At ages 8-12, and probably beyond, serious ballplayers must develop proper mechanics for hitting, pitching, fielding, throwing and catching. Sure, they need to play against competition in order to learn the game, gain experience and build confidence. But if in doing so, they continue to perpetuate the same old incorrect mechanics, then they are probably wasting their time and money if they want to continue in the game past their early teen years.

At the youth level, players can get by on natural coordination, strength and athleticism. But if you go watch a high school game, you rarely see a player with a bad swing, awkward throwing motion or weak glove work. And you never see it at the college level. The players that make it that far were taught at a young age how to do things correctly. They got the instruction, practiced it enough to build correct muscle memory, and then they put it to use in games. They didn't just play as many games as they could from the time they were 8 years old.

If I am paying for my child to play on a select youth team - I'm not, so this is purely hypothetical -  then I am paying for skills development. I am paying for instruction in addition to the games. If there are more games than practices... if there is rarely any one-on-one instruction... or if my child's mechanical flaws are never corrected - then I wonder if the coaching staff has the knowledge and ability to really teach baseball. I also wonder if I have wasted my money.

Monday, March 26, 2012

More On Strasburg and Fixing Poor Mechanics Early

A couple of people have sent me a set of great articles from ESPN the Magazine that I don't want to be buried in the comments section of the post below. First, Lindsay Berra has written a long article about Stephen Strasburg, what leads to UCL injuries, and MLB's reluctance to fix the mechanical problems in question.

This makes me think more than ever that it's important for youth coaches to ensure proper mechanics at a young age. You can't just count pitches - you have to teach them how to pitch the ball first. As Dr. Andrews says in the article,"The No. 1 risk factor for UCL injuries is poor mechanics. The No. 2 factor is overuse. And if you overuse with poor mechanics, you're doomed."  

The place to start teaching correct mechanics may be the wall drill that Al Leiter demonstrates below. And for an example of a pitcher that did it the right way, check out this comparison of Greg Maddux and Strasburg.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Strasburg Back from Injury With the Same Mechanics

Stephen Strasburg will start for the Washington Nationals on Opening Day. It's great to see the young pitching phenom back from injury and Tommy John surgery. But will he be able to last an entire season? The Nats have said they will limit his innings to help protect his arm and try to make that happen. One might hope that his mechanics - which have been analyzed before in great detail because of his "inverted W" and the stress it can put on his arm - would have been adjusted some during his rehab period.

But check out this follow-up MLB Network Diamond Demo where Al Leiter shows us how Strasburg's mechanics are unchanged. As a youth coach, the phrase that jumps out at me is: "It's not easy - he's been throwing like that since he was 10 years old." And he's right - the older they get, the harder it is to change a player's mechanics. The muscle memory is more ingrained and less willing to adjust. That's why it's important to teach correct mechanics at a young age. Don't save the instruction for later. By the time that special player gets through high school, the damage may already be done and it will be harder to fix.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Selected Reading Material 3-12-12

Young Arms and Curveballs: A Scientific Twist by Bill Pennington, NY Times - Not exactly new information, but a timely look at the latest in the debate.

Challenge Sports Really Test Parents by Tracy Curtis, Charlotte Observer - A local take on what that additional team means for the parents.

More Youth Play Isn't a Winner for Everybody by Dr. Richard Hinton, Baltimore Sun - Using lacrosse as an example, explores the effects of specialization.

Top 10 Youth Coaching Pearls of Wisdom

Humans like to pass down "wisdom" to the next generation, whether it's wise or not. Just for fun, here are some of the great youth coaching catchphrases to be on the lookout for this season. We are all guilty at one time or another.

1. Just throw strikes... If only it were that easy.

2. Get that elbow up... And then tuck it in correctly in the blink of an eye.

3. Throw over the top... A good recipe for shoulder pain.

4. Reach back and fire... If you are a stiff-armed catapult.

5. A walk's as good as a hit... Not usually.

6. Great swing... Perhaps, but if it was that good, you probably would've hit the ball.

7. Have a level swing... Level to what?

8. Feet shoulder width apart... A good recipe for a choppy swing.

9. Have fun!!!... Yes sir!

10. Watch for the changeup!... And good luck being ready for this here fastball.

Leave a comment if you have any more gems.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

A Dose of Perspective for Us Dads

I recently came across the following post on a message board. This is a good reminder of what it's all about as we head into another new season........

"After visiting this site for awhile, I saw this thread and just had to add my special memory. My son liked to play baseball but was never great at it. He wasn't talented enough to play high school ball but he played summer ball whether it was Little League or Babe Ruth, He never made any all star teams or such. He was just good enough to start. Most of all, he liked to play Babe Ruth ball with his friends. The boys just had a good time even though success was hard to find. During a Senior Babe Ruth game one night, my son was playing first and a fly ball was hit behind first into short right field. He turned and hustled to make an over the head catch that Willie Mays would have been proud of. I just stood there not believing what I just saw. I was in awe. Before I could make my way out of the dugout (I was on scorebook duty) to congratulate him, he had already returned the ball to the pitcher and was in stance for the next defensive play. With the next pitch, a ball was hit to second and he dropped a perfect throw at first. I told him when he came in how pretty the fly ball catch was and then asked him what happened on the throw from second. I can remember how fast his smile changed into a lowered head. To this day, I regret not making a bigger deal out of the great catch. And now I can't. My son was killed almost two years ago, months after making that catch. I responded to this thread so I could tell the dads out there to make sure you appreciate the memories you have and ones to come. Make sure your son has a smile on his face after the game. More importantly, make sure you do to. Always be positive and somehow forget the "bad". Believe me, winning or losing a baseball game just isn't that important anymore. I would give anything to see that smile again."

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Prepare for Youth Tryouts

Little League tryouts are this weekend for several youth organizations in our area. We call them "skills evaluations" because there are no cuts - everyone is placed on a team. It just might not be a Major League team.

For someone like me that has gone through the tryout and draft process as a coach for many years, this article by Chris Sullivan of Seattle's KIRO FM is a fun read. His account of the Mill Creek Little League tryouts is pretty similar to the way things are in our league.

I love tryouts. Baseball is back, and as the saying goes, hope springs eternal. But it can be a nervous time for the kids. So here are some thoughts on how to approach tryouts:

  • Shake off the rust before tryout day. If you want to do your best and show what kind of player you really are, don't let tryouts be your first day playing baseball since last season. Practice hitting and fielding especially. Work out the kinks ahead of time.
  • Dress the part. Show the coaches, many of whom don't know you, that you are a ballplayer. Wear a hat, baseball pants and baseball cleats if possible.
  • Arrive early and warm up - the legs, the arm, maybe even take a few swings in the cage. You don't want to be tight when you're trying to show how athletic you are or how strong your arm is, etc.
  • Be prepared to see coaches with clipboards in hand, sitting all over the field, watching your every move. They are scoring tryouts so they can choose players. Try to ignore them and focus on your game.
  • Coach yourself. As you wait for your turn to perform an activity, remind yourself of what you've been taught about that activity - head down, two hands, bend the knees, close your shoulder - whatever the case may be.
  • Relax. Tension prevents you from being quick, flexible and mechanically sound. Remind yourself to breathe. Shake out the tension. Remember that it's just a game. Dress warmly so you're not shivering with tension.
  • Have fun, but don't goof off. Waiting in line for your turn can be boring, but coaches notice the kids flipping hats and not paying attention. Don't be a hat-flipper. Be a ballplayer.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Selected Reading Material 2-22-12

Dr. James Andrews Talks Tommy John by Matthew Muench, ESPN  -  Important read for any baseball coach or parent of a pitcher.

What Makes a Nightmare Sports Parent - And What Makes a Great One by Steve Henson, Yahoo! Sports  -  Not just the obvious stuff.

MLB Network Remembers Gary Carter  -  I want my kids to play the game like this guy did.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Jeremy Lin Message

Jeremy Lin is the hero of bench warmers everywhere. And rightly so. He got his shot and has made the most of it.

But as Bob Cook points out at his Forbes blog, Your Kid's Not Going Pro, there's more to it than just a coach finally giving him more PT. A lot of natural talent, passion for the game and especially, hard work went into this amazing story.

I hope that part of the message isn't lost on aspiring athletes. Lin didn't really come out of "nowhere" - he persevered past the stereotypes and worked on his game so that he could make the most of his talent and succeed at what he loves doing. He made it happen. The hard work paid off. This is a good read. Check it out.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Hanson Adjusts Mechanics to Protect His Shoulder

Braves' pitcher Tommy Hanson informed the media that he has worked in the offseason to change his pitching delivery in order to take some stress off his shoulder and quicken his motion to the plate. He ended 2011 on the DL, a season in which the Braves collapsed down the stretch and failed to reach the postseason.

Hanson says he is now separating his hands later. This gives his throwing arm less time to come full circle and deliver the pitch, which means it can't get into the awkward cocked position that he demonstrated before. Hanson acknowledged that with his old mechanics he felt like he was throwing entirely with his arm. I'll say - his old delivery was a little painful to watch, so one can understand the stress that his shoulder (and likely elbow) was under. With the new timing of his later hand separation and therefore quicker delivery, his arm won't be ready to throw quite so soon. He'll end up using the energy generated by his hips to pull that arm forward and thus take stress off the arm itself. 

Here is a great video analysis of Hanson's mechanics by Dick Mills from several months ago. Mills contrasts Hanson's old delivery with that of Daniel Bard of the Red Sox, and recommends to Hanson that he make an adjustment. I remember seeing Bard pitch in high school for Charlotte Christian - I was struck by how effortlessly the ball seemed to jump out of his hand. That's what whole body mechanics and perfect timing can do for a pitcher.

Pain or injury from improper mechanics may not be felt at at the youth level. But the damage can be done there. Get it fixed before that happens.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Little League Round Tables Discuss Potential Changes

The 2012 Little League Regional Round Tables are in Charlotte today. Little League is visiting each of the five US regions to educate and get input from District Administrators (DA's) and Assistant DA's regarding proposed regulation changes for the future. Here are some of the more talked about proposals being discussed from the agenda:
Item 1 - Synopsis: "This regulation would allow leagues to register players who live in another chartered Little League’s boundaries, with written consent from both league presidents and the District Administrator."  This seems to make sense - allow families living in close proximity to another league's fields or with close ties that league to seek approval to make the switch, regardless of boundaries - as long as the system isn't abused, with parents seeking out "better" leagues and league presidents making deals on a regular basis. I guess it depends on how strong of a leader the DA is.
Item 2 - Synopsis: "This would create a new baseball division with a 50-foot pitching distance and 70-foot base paths for 11-13 year olds."  As I have said before, I am all for 50/70 - anything to back up the mound from 46 ft. But I think it should be a 10-12 or 11-12-year-old division. Too many 13-year-olds have

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Jeter Trains for Spring Training

Position players don't report to Yankees spring training in Tampa, FL for another two weeks, but as usual, Derek Jeter has been there since mid-January. Jeter could choose to enjoy another few leisurely weeks of his offseason, but he doesn't rest on his natural ability. He trains to get better - stronger, faster and more mechanically sound - fighting off age (38) in the twilight of his career. As he does every year, he trains for spring training.

Jeter is a role model to players of all ages because of how acts on and off the field, both in season and out. His work ethic is what has made him great. If you are a player that truly wants to be great, look to him as an example. And ask yourself - what have you done recently to improve? Baseball season is almost here. No matter what level you play at, there is always someone better than you, and always someone trying to catch up to you. The players with a strong work ethic are the ones that don't get passed by.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Little League Featured on Uni Watch

The Little League Museum in Williamsport, PA was featured today by Paul Lukas on one of my favorite sites, Uni Watch - "The Obsessive Study of Athletics Aesthetics." A fellow reader sent in some great pictures of various historic uniforms and equipment from the early days of the organization.

I especially like the Lundy Lumber jersey on the left. I consider my team to be old - we are celebrating our 60th anniversary this year - but Lundy Lumber has been around since the very beginning in 1939. The old jerseys look pretty similar though.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Selected Reading Material 1-27-12

What Are Sports Parenting Sympathy Groups and Why Should You Avoid Them? by Janis Meredith  -  How not to act.

All Stars For a Lifetime by George Will  -  The story of Charleston's Cannon Street YMCA Little League 1955 All-Stars and their march to Williamsport.

Fans vs. Parents by Meagan Frank  -  Are you a fan or a parent?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Million Dollar Swing Mechanics

Prince Fielder just agreed to a 9-year $214M contract with the Detroit Tigers. He was the top free agent on the market after 6 great seasons in Milwaukee, in which he finished in the top five in NL MVP voting three times. He has the most majestic swing in baseball.

But he ain't just heavy. Prince Fielder has a great swing, as shown in the video below (3:36) from the 2011 Home Run Derby. This was a pretty special event, as it showcased several of the very best swings in baseball: Adrian Gonzalez, Jose Bautista, David Ortiz, Prince Fielder and Robinson Cano.

You can say the same things about each hitter in this video: The hands take a direct path forward to the ball. The back foot and hips rotate to face the pitcher. The front leg is braced and back knee is bent 90 degrees at contact. The top hand is under the bat when it meets the ball - not pushing from behind or rolling over the handle too soon. Once the front foot lands, the head is incredibly still and down on the ball. The finish is high, with hands above the shoulder. These are the keys to great swing mechanics. Love this video.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Little League Bat Resource Page

Little League, Inc. has created a new comprehensive web page regarding its most recently posted bat information. This is the place to go for parents and coaches in search of 2012 regulations, lists of approved bats, definitions of bat terminology and frequently asked questions. Little League has put out most of this information in various places before, but now it has been grouped together in one convenient place.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Which Youth Players Will Be High School Stars?

I came across a good post at the Youth Baseball Blog about predicting which of our young players will play high school baseball or beyond. The point made by "Coach Bob" is that no one knows, so let them have fun without the expectations of what they might be doing five years down the road.

Kids obviously go through significant physical changes in their early teens. It is not uncommon that I see former players that I literally don't recognize a few years down the road. They might be bigger, wider, leaner - whatever. But how they develop physically as a teenager can certainly affect their chances of playing high school ball. How they develop mentally can do the same. When they are in Little League, baseball or softball can seem like everything. But there is a whole world of activities and interests that they will encounter as they grow up.

So I agree that we as coaches need to keep things in perspective and make sure they have fun. We want them to have fond memories of their time on our team and playing with their friends. I would add that we can also hope to instill a good work ethic, self confidence, good sportsmanship and a love of the game that may last a lifetime.

But in my experience, I do think there are some early indicators of future success on the diamond:

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Selected Reading Material 1-11-12

A small sampling of recent interesting reads.......

Let the Kids Play: They'll Do Better in School  -  Studies show a correlation between physical activity and grades. By Alice Park, Time.

Top 10 Sports Parenting Predictions for 2012  -  By Rick Wolff

Will This Opera Pro Convince You Not to Push Your Kids in Sports Too Early?  -  Why child prodigies often "flame out." By Bob Cook

Monday, January 9, 2012

Vision and Focus in the Batter's Box

Here's a good MLB Diamond Demo with former Royal's All-Star Mike Sweeney talking about vision in the batter's box.  First, he discusses a fairly common sense mechanical aspect of keeping the head down on the ball: During the course of the swing, the batter's chin should go from the front shoulder to the back shoulder. If both eyes are seeing the ball as it is pitched, and the hands load properly before pulling forward, the chin will touch the front shoulder as the ball is approaching. If the eyes track the ball in to contact, and the hands finish high enough in the follow through, the chin will then be touching the back shoulder.

If the chin doesn't go to the back shoulder, the batter is not only not seeing the ball as well as he should. But he is also likely pulling his bat away from the ball, instead of to it and through it. The head is obviously connected to the neck, then the shoulders, then the arms, hands and bat. I like to think of the bat as an extension of the head. If the head is down and in at contact, there is a better chance of meeting the ball with the barrel of the bat. If the head flies out, there is more of a chance of weak contact at the end of the bat - if there is contact at all.

Sweeney also discusses the importance of the batter focusing on the ball as it is being pitched. As they say - "see the ball, hit the ball." To me, this means the batter needs to clear his head of any thoughts apart from the baseball itself when he is preparing to swing. His analysis of the previous swing, his necessary adjustments, his emotions, his planning - that all needs to happen before he digs in. Once he sets up in the box, the batter can rest assured that he is prepared. He can take a deep breath, relax and focus on the ball. With this simple, relaxed focus, there is a better chance of a timely, mechanically sound swing - and therefore a better chance of a good hit.