Monthly Archives: October 2010

Your role as parent v coach

So, you think you have it tough drawing the line between being a parent and a coach? How would you like to be a Hall of Fame athlete and have to try to make that distinction?

That’s the topic of an article called Parent First, Coach Second on the Responsible Coach site from Liberty Mutual. (It’s a great site, by the way, and one to which you should consider subscribing.)

The focus of the article is on NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Montana and his relationship with his two sons, both college quarterbacks. In it, Joe talks about how he had to learn to back off and let his sons come to him for advice rather than always trying to tell them what to do.

Think about it. You’re Joe Freaking Montana, one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game. You have accolades out the wazoo, and an incredible knowledge of the game. Yet when you try to give your son a little help on his game, he doesn’t see all that. He sees his danged Dad getting in the way again. That should make all of you who either coach your own kids formally or work with them on the side feel a little better about yourselves.

Drawing that line is one of the toughest parts of youth sports. I know, because I did it for 20-some years between coaching my own kids in soccer and fastpitch softball. But this isn’t reserved only for those who are a team coach. Anyone who wants to help their son or daughter succeed in their chosen sport faces this dilemma.

How many times have you stood on the sidelines yelling instructions to your young athlete, even though you’re not the coach? Or worse yet, someone else’s kid? How many times have you gotten in the car after the game and gone on and on for the duration of the car ride, dissecting each play and analyzing the whole thing ad nauseum? How many times have you made your kid go out and practice after a game when you didn’t feel their performance was up to snuff?

I know I’ve done all of them at one time or another. I’m not proud of it, but admitting it is the first step to getting past it.
What’s important to remember is that no matter what your capabilities or past accomplishments are in the world of sports, your first responsibility to your children is to be their parent. Be the one who supports them, who picks them up when they’re down, who loves them unconditionally — even if they did swing at that 0-2 changeup in the dirt you and everyone else at the field knew was coming.

Yes, be there to help, but let your player decide when it’s time. You can’t force it. I know.

About 10 or so years ago, I tried to teach my son Eric how to hit a baseball. By that time I’d already built a pretty good track record working with boys and girls, and I knew I could help him improve. But he didn’t want any part of it. He resisted everything I told him mightily, and copped an attitude with me when I tried to work with him. I got mad, but then realized it was pointless. So I told him fine, if you want to do it your way go ahead. Have at it.

After a season of futility he came to me and said, “Ok Dad, I’m ready now. I will do whatever you tell me to do.” He was true to his word, and his hitting improved dramatically after an off-season of work. He wound up getting a lot of extra base hits in the rest of his career, and working on his hitting became a bonding time for both of us. We still talk about it, in fact. But it only worked because he chose to have me coach him. And during his games, if I wasn’t on the coaching staff I just sat back and enjoyed the game as his parent.

So what about you? What have your experiences been? Have you learned how to draw the line between parent and coach, or do you still struggle with it? And if you have any war stories of your own (either as a parent or as a player), be sure to share them in the comments section below.


Wherein Stephanie gets her kitty

A few months ago I blogged about one of my students, Stephanie, who had been promised a kitten by her father if she hit 57 mph. (I tried to find the original post but couldn’t and so gave up. But it’s out there somewhere.)

Last Friday night, Steph earned her kitten. In fact, she blew past the goal and actually nailed a 58 as well as a couple of 57s on the Jugs gun. I always require a second reading at a speed before I’ll trust it, as there are all kinds of factors that can create a false reading on a one-time try.

I think her dad Rick had mixed emotions on it — happy she got there but dreading the addition of a kitten to the family — but I can tell you Steph was high-energy for the rest of the lesson.

One thing that was interesting was how Steph got to her best speeds. On her first couple of attempts, she scored a 56. I knew this was something she really wanted, and guessed she was over-amping herself. So I told her to take a deep breath, relax and give it another try. Sure enough, she hit 58.

It was the same with each of her attempts. When I would remind her to take a deep breath she’d hit her target. When I let her go on her own, she’d fall just short. She told me afterwards she’s going to add the deep breath to her pre-pitch routine. Something for all pitchers to think about as they try to get that little bit extra on the ball. Instead of getting all tightened up, breath deeply and relax.

So for those of you rooting for Stephanie to earn her kitten, you can be delighted for her. She’s there. Can’t wait to see the photos. And by the way, she told me if it’s male kitten she’ll name it Ken, and if it’s a girl it will be Kendra. Guess we’ll see about that.

Best way to get off first on a steal

Today was the day we spot-checked how our players are getting off first on a steal. We used a technique I first heard about at the NFCA Coaches College . It’s pretty simple. You set up a video camera(in this case a Kodak Playsport) in a spot where you can see both the pitcher and the runner on first, and then you see whether the runner is getting off the base on time. To make it easier to see, we transfer the video to a computer, incidentally.

It’s amazing what you see when you do it. We tell the baserunners to anticipate the release, essentially getting going when the pitcher’s hand is over her head. The general rule, which I got from Team USA coach Jay Miller, is you’re either safe at second or out at first. Despite all of that, some of our runners were still late getting off first.

In looking back at the video, however, we also noticed a pattern. The players who used the “rocker” start — where you place the left foot on the base and drop the right foot back and to the side — were consistently late. Most were about four frames late (on a 30 fps video). The players who used a “sprinter” start — back foot on the base and front foot out toward second — were either early or on time. None were late.

At that same Coaches College class we were told that when a study was done, the sprinter start came out faster, even though everyone thinks that the rocker start provides an advantage because you’re already in motion. Perhaps, in looking at the video, this is why.

While those doing the rocker start may get started a little earlier, they’re not really getting going early enough. It’s much harder to time the release from the base to the release of the pitch because there is more margin for error. Using the sprinter start, as soon as you get into motion you’re off the base.

If you’ve been teaching the rocker start, it might be worth doing a recording to see if you’re really getting the benefit you think you are. You may just be surprised. And if you do happen to do the test and it shows your players getting off on-time, or early, please share how you’re teaching it. But no speculation — actually run the test.

Congrats to our sister team, Lake County Freedom

Over the last weekend, our sister team, the Lake County Freedom, took first place in an ASA Northern Nationals qualifier tournament, so I wanted to give them a shout out and hearty congratulations! Here a link to an article from the Chicago Tribune that covers it in more detail.

I’m also proud to say that our Lake County Glory did its part to help, loaing the Freedom one of our players (Justine Schattner) who did just fine despite playing against girls three to four years older in some cases.

So congrats, Freedom! Keep up the good work.

The rules on hit batsmen

Ok, this is for all the parents who are new to travel ball, having just moved up from rec ball. It’s also for those umpires who are allowing themselves to be bullied into make the wrong call.

In ASA and as far as I know every other sanctioning body, there is no limit to the number of batters a pitcher can hit, whether in an inning or a game. I repeat, there is no limit, other than how many baserunners the defensive team’s coach will allow to be on base.

I understand you hate to see your daughter be hit by the ball, especially by a pitcher who is throwing hard. You also don’t want your daughter to have to face that pitcher in case she might strike out. Better to get that pitcher out of there any way you can.

Again I say to you, there is no limit to the number of batters the pitcher can hit. So quit complaining and demanding that the pitcher be taken out. And you young umpires out there, quit letting those parents talk you into it. Read your rulebook, both for what’s there and what’s not. It’s your responsibility to know.

There. I feel better now.

Throwing from your knees

Got an excited text tonight from a catcher (Lindsay) who played on the team I coached this summer. She wanted to let me know that she used a technique we worked on this summer and it worked — mostly, anyway.

The technique was a pickoff to third by dropping to her knees. It’s good to do on runners on third who are not paying attention, or who are looking to come home on a passed ball.

Essentially, you set up a little deeper behind the hitter than normal — just a foot or two, enough to clear a little extra room. The pitcher throws the pitch — something the catcher can grab easily, preferably to the inside on a right handed hitter — and the catcher receives it. Instead of throwing it back to the pitcher, or standing up, the catcher drops her left knee and throws as she “falls” to her left. The momentum of the knee dropping helps get a little something extra on the ball.

Here’s why it’s effective. When most catchers want to throw, they stand up, turn toward the base, and make a full throw. Everyone on the field can see it coming, and it gives the runner plenty of time to get back.

But when the catcher drops a knee and throws, the runner never sees it coming. The catcher is somewhat shielded by the hitter, and she doesn’t act the way the runner is expecting. All of a sudden here comes the ball and often it freezes and confuses the runner.

From what Lindsay said, that part of it worked like a charm. In fact, it worked so well it also caught the third baseman by surprise. (They hadn’t had a chance to practice it, so the timing wasn’t quite there.) She had little doubt it would work in the future.

Of course, it’s not for everyone. You need a catcher with a good arm, a quick release and the brains to know when the opportunity is there. But if you have a catcher like Lindsay, it’s a great play.

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