Monthly Archives: May 2008

Sportsmanship and class

I’m sure some if not many of you have seen this already, but I think it bears promoting anyway. It’s a video story from ESPN about a college game and the act of class and sportsmanship that one team showed another.

The basics are that a player on one team hit an over-the-fence home run — her first-ever as a player. As she was going into second on her home run trot she realized she didn’t touch first and turned to go back and touch it. As she turned she tore her ACL (probably metal cleats catching in the dirt, but that’s another story). She crawled back to first, then just lay there hugging the base. The umpire told her coach that no one from their team could help her around the bases, and they couldn’t use a pinch runner for her (the latter of which turned out to be untrue). So she was stuck at first, in pain, unable to go on, when a very classy thing occured.

Two players from the opposing team, with the hitter’s permission, picked her up and carried her around the bases, pausing at each one to let her touch it. They certainly didn’t have to do it, but they felt it was the right thing to do.

What an amazing thing. In our ultra-competitive society, where everyone is trying to gain an advantage, it would’ve been easy to let her lie there and her run not to count. The team on defense at the time went on to lose the game. But those players made the decision to do the right thing, consequences be damned.

What a tribute to those players, their coach, and their parents. I hope they were at least named conference players of the week. This is the type of thing sports are supposed to teach but don’t always do. If you want your kids to have role models, you couldn’t find any better ones than these young ladies.

Blasting balls at fielders

You see it everywhere. Teams of younger players out on the field for fielding practice. A big coach (usually a guy) standing at home plate. He tosses the ball up, takes a powerful swing, and blasts a hard ground ball at one of the girls, who does her best to field it and make the throw. The coach is hitting the ball hard at the girls with the best of intentions. He wants them to learn to handle hard hit balls, and to improve their reaction time. Yet what he is more likely doing is practicing to lose rather than win.

Think about it. Let’s say the team is 10U or 12U. How many girls that age can hit a pitched ball as hard as a large, grown man can fungo it? You can probably count them on the fingers of one ear. Once in a blue moon a ball might be hit that hard, but it’s certainly the exception.

By hitting hard ball after hard ball, the coach is teaching his players to sit back and wait. He’s also teaching them that the elapsed time from contact with the bat to contact with the glove is one second or less. Yet that’s not really what happens on the field. It’s more likely that the ball will be hit softly, requiring the fielders to charge it. But since they’re used to sitting back so they don’t get killed, they’re slow to charge the batted ball. In the meantime, the batter is running up the first base line. The throw gets there late and everyone is unhappy that the fielder got to it late.

The other thing that happens with hard fungoes is the practice becomes more about survival than technique. The fielder may learn to knock the ball down or stab at it, but she’s not really learning proper fielding technique that will translate to the field. She’s less likely to be able to get her butt and glove down properly, receive the ball gently, scoop it cleanly and make the transition to throw. She’s just going to grab it and go.

Contrast that with what I see when I watch college teams practice. They often roll the ball by hand to players so they can work on their fundamentals — even before an actual game. When they do fungo ground balls, they’re hit lightly so the fielders have to be aggressive, rather than sitting back passively waiting for the ball to nearly overpower them.

It applies at every level, but especially at the younger levels. If you’re smacking hard grounders at your players, make a pledge to stop now. Hit the ball at the speed they can reasonably expect based on your level of competition so they set their minds on making the plays you need them to make. Believe me — if anything is hit harder and right at them, they’ll make the play out of self-defense. Coach for the majority of what you’ll face instead of the minority and you’ll make more plays and win more games. It’s just common sense.

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