Category Archives: Sportsmanship

Teach Your Children Well

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been seeing several posts and discussions about sportsmanship and the lack thereof. I’m not talking about umpire abuse, which I’ve talked about before, or parents getting into screaming matches or even fistfights on the sidelines.

Instead, the issue has to do with all the sing-song cheering that goes on in the dugout.

Now, let me say from the outset that I’m not a huge fan of that type of cheering. I personally find it annoying and a distraction. I’d much rather have my players focused on studying the pitcher and looking for defensive tendencies than worrying about what rhymes they’re going to scream at the tops of their lungs.

That doesn’t make cheering wrong, necessarily, it’s just not my cup of tea. Then again, neither is Metallica, although a lot of other people seem to like them.

Speaking of screaming in rhyme.

Still, if doing the cheers makes it more fun for the girls then I say have it. I’ll deal.

The only caveat is that you should be cheering for your team, not against the other team or insulting them in some way. And that’s where it seems to be going wrong more and more these days.

There has always been an element of that in the sport. I remember hearing cheers about pitchers rolling the ball in or the infamous “siren” when a runner stole a base back in the day. Those are things you have to learn to shake off.

But in today’s world it seems like it’s getting a lot nastier, and a lot more personal.

The problem is you’re not just setting a tone for a team in a game. Coaches who allow or encourage that type of behavior are teaching their players that, well, it’s perfectly fine to be a jerk to others if it gets you what you want.

Is that really the takeaway we want to give our players?

People always talk about how playing sports teaches the concept of sportsmanship and fair play, qualities that are essential to a higher-functioning society.

In these cases, however, that’s not what’s happening. In fact, it’s going the other way.

An entire generation built on making yourself feel better by putting others down or doing whatever you want no matter how it affects others does not lead to a better society. Quite the opposite.

There is simply no reason for this type of behavior. Instead, sports should be teaching our young people that they can support their teammates while respecting those on the other side.

They should also be teaching that punching down on someone who is struggling is just wrong. Yes, that pitcher may be slower than you’re used to, but that doesn’t mean it’s your job to point it out to the entire field and make her feel bad about herself.

Instead, appreciate that she’s doing the best she can in that moment. Instead, have some empathy for her, and think about how you would feel if you were her and others were yelling their nastiness at you in front of the crowd.

The same goes for making fun of a player who made an error or struck out on a bad pitch. Celebrate what your side did without pointing out the flaws of theirs.

Because someday, in some other situation, like a new job, she may very well be you. And you’re going to hope your coworkers will help you instead of simply jeering and telling the rest of the company how badly you suck.

Coaches, if you hear this sort of thing coming out of your players shut it down immediately. I get that you may not even notice what they’re saying, especially if you tend to tune that noise out like I do. But someone on the staff should be able to notice it and address it.

If they don’t, parents don’t hesitate to bring it up to the coach. After all, that’s your daughter and her friends/teammates.

You want them to grow up to be decent human beings, and to think about the world they’re going to leave for Keith Richards and Willie Nelson someday.

Keef agrees.

They need to learn how to make the world a better place than they found it, and their behavior during games (especially if there is a mismatch in talent) is a great place to start.

I know some will say “The world is a tough place and the little snowflakes need to toughen up.” But it’s only tough if we all collectively allow it to be.

If each person does a little bit every day to make the world a little better the cumulative effect will be immense. For softball players, they can start by cheering FOR their team rather than AGAINST their opponents – either individually or as a team.

Teach your children well. Because the lessons they’re learning on the field today can have a big impact on who they become as adults.


The Run Rule – and the Golden Rule

Most of us are taught the Golden Rule as children: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

So you have to wonder what goes through some coaches’ heads when their team is clearly going to run rule their opponents but they decide to keep their foot on the offensive accelerator anyway. I mean, why would you beat an opponent by 15 runs when you could do it by 30 runs instead? Right?

This topic came up when I was talking to a coach friend of mine who recently saw this type of beating in real time. She wondered why the coach of the superior team felt the need to run up the score when the game was already decided pretty early.

I didn’t have an answer. Maybe the winning coach wasn’t used to being in that situation and didn’t know how to control events on the field.

Maybe she thought that hanging a big number on their opponents would somehow give her team more confidence and they’d start playing better. Maybe she just didn’t know any better.

Maybe the losing team over-reached (or under-researched) when entering that tournament or scheduling that game and put themselves in a bad situation.

Or maybe, just maybe, the winning coach enjoyed the feeling of beating up on a weaker team. There are people like that out there.

Take that random team I don’t really know.

Whatever the reason, scores of big numbers to 0 or 1 really shouldn’t happen. Once the direction of the game has been established as being greatly lopsided, the coach of the team on top should do what he/she can to keep it under control rather than humiliating a group of kids who may not have been playing for very long or just don’t have the talent to compete at that particular level.

There are several ways the superior team can help keep the score from getting out of hand:

  • One of the first things to do is quit stealing bases. Not just actual steals but even on passed balls or wild pitches, and especially with a runner on third. Just hold the runners where they are to give the fielding team more of an opportunity to make plays without the offensive team racking up runs.
  • You can also have baserunners run station-to-station. In other words, even though runners could move up two or three bases at a time, just have them move up to the next base and stop. And no taking an extra base on an overthrow. I can already hear the objections: “But I want to teach my runners to be aggressive and this will hurt that plan.” Stop already with that. First of all, the head coach can (quietly) explain what the team is doing (and why), letting the team know it’s only for this one game. And if pulling up in one game really leads baserunners to be unaggressive in the next game, well, the coach has some more work to do on teaching the game.
  • You can have runners slow down a little to give fielders a little extra time to make a play. Not too much – you don’t want to look like you’re trying to show up the other team. But a little bit might help.
  • If those steps don’t help, the team on offense can start making outs on purpose. One of the classic strategies is to have baserunners leave the base early so they can be called out by the umpire. In my experience it’s best to let the umpire know quietly you’re planning to do it so they are watching for it.
  • Another way is to have hitters line up at one of the edges of the box and then step out as they hit. For example, a hitter who strides can have her front foot at the front of the batter’s box and stride out. A slapper can run out of the box and slap or bunt. Again, it helps to let the umpire know you’re doing it to make it easier for him/her to call.
  • On a ground ball, baserunners can gently run into fielders to be called for interference rather than going around. It should be just enough to be seen, but definitely not enough to cause distress or injury.
  • And, of course, for teams that have designated starters and subs, put those subs in early. The starters might appreciate the break and the subs will have a chance to play. Just make sure the starters know it’s now their turn to support their teammates on the field and at the plate. The risk here is that the subs will be anxious to show what they can do and might bring a little too much enthusiasm to the opportunity. So make sure everyone on your side understands what’s happening and what they are expected to do.

There are also a couple of ways I wouldn’t go about it, including:

  • Telling a hitter to strike out on purpose, or just go for a weak hit. While the intention may be good, you run the risk of having that come back to bite you in a game where you do need a hit.
  • Having players bat opposite-handed. Again, while the intention might be good, it could also be viewed as trying to show up the other team. They feel bad enough. No use adding insult to injury.
  • Having all your hitters bunt. Most teams spend less time on their bunt defense than their standard ground ball defense. This is especially true of weak teams in my experience. While you may think you’re helping them, you could be making them look even worse.

Coaches should want to keep the score somewhat under control because it’s the right thing to do. Again, the Golden Rule.

You wouldn’t want someone running the score up on your team, so don’t do it to someone else. But there’s another reason too.

You may have also heard the phrase “Karma (or payback) is a b***h.”

Always fun to see a little payback happen.

Some day that team you’re humiliating today might get better while yours loses a step or two.

Coaches tend to have long memories for these sorts of things, so should that day come what you do today could have a big impact on how you end up looking and feeling then.

No one learns anything when a team runs up the score on a weaker opponent. Except that maybe someone doesn’t have much class.

“Do unto others” and you can never go wrong. The lessons learned there will be worth a lot more than a few extra runs in the “runs for” column.

New Year, New You


Photo by Pixabay on

I know the headline sounds like an ad for a diet product or a health club, but there really is something to taking advantage of the turn of the calendar to start making improvements in our lives.

As humans we tend to like to have a clean break from the old when we start something new. The most obvious example is most people like to take a little time off between the time they end their old jobs and the time they start new ones. That little space in-between, even if it’s just a couple of days, helps us decompress and let go of the past so we can focus on the present – and the future.

That’s what’s often magical about the start of a new year. While in reality it’s just another day on the calendar, it feels like the start of something different.

So how can you take advantage of this artificially imposed fresh start? By (dare I say it?) resolving to do one or more things differently this year.

If you’re a coach, spend some time studying new techniques or approaches to the game. Challenge yourself by looking into information that conflicts with your current beliefs – especially if you’ve held those beliefs for a while.

Attend a coaching clinic with an open mind. Watch a current video or read a new book. Not just on fastpitch softball specifically, but also on coaching principles in general. In short, look for ways to be better than you are now.

If you’re a player, think about what a great year would be for you, then think about whether you can get there with what you’re doing now. A good way to do that is to write a letter to your future self describing the awesome season you just had.

If the season you want to have isn’t achievable with your current approach, figure out what you need to change to make it achievable. It could be something as simple as practicing for five more minutes during a session, or finding ways to sneak in an extra 5-10 minutes of practice per week when you can’t get to a field.

It could also mean being willing to change something you’ve been doing for a long time to see if the new way will work better. After all, no one ever created an innovation by continuing to do the same old thing.

If you’re a parent, think about how you can be more supportive, both to your player and to the team. Hopefully you’re already one who cheers in a positive way. But if you’re not sure, maybe set up a video camera and record yourself during your child’s next game to see what you think. Would you want to sit next to you? Or be with you on the ride home?

You might even want to do the same for someone else you may know, assuming they would take the information in the spirit it is intended. Learning to relax and enjoy the game makes it a lot more pleasurable for everyone – including the person who usually gets so upset.

You can also try watching a game where you have no stake to see what you think of how the spectators are reacting. The compare that to how you feel during your child’s game. It can be an interesting perspective.

One other thing you can do as a parent is to educate yourself on what the latest thinking is regarding various skills and see if that matches up with what your player is being taught. Don’t just assume a coach or instructor knows what he/she is doing, or is keeping up with the sport. Learn what to look for so you know whether you’re investing your hard-earned money in the best way possible.

It’s a new year. Why settle for the same old same old?

Take advantage of the energy that comes with a fresh start and use it to create a new, even better you. Best of luck for the upcoming year!

Where have all the officials gone?

There has been a decline in sports officials nationwide

If you’ve been thinking lately that it’s a tough time for officials in a number of sports including fastpitch softball, you’d be right. As this infographic from Ohio University demonstrates, the number of officials nationwide is on a steady decline.

That’s bad news for everyone involved in youth sports, because even though you may not always like their calls, and in some cases may think they are biased/blind/complete idiots, umpires and referees are still essential for competitive sports. You could play without them, I suppose, but if you’re counting on all the coaches and players to be completely honest about close calls you’re bound to be sorely disappointed.

Where are they all going? Well, like the rest of the workforce, older officials are retiring. Unfortunately, not enough people are stepping up to replace them. It seems that players who are either finishing or have finished their playing careers aren’t exactly stepping up to stay involved in softball by becoming umpires. Although there are some exceptions.

The opportunities to advance from high school to college officiating aren’t exactly abundant either, which may discourage some. The pay isn’t exactly great, the hours can be long and inconvenient, and so forth.

Then there is the issue of the hostile environment these days. More and more, youth sports contests are beginning to sound like political debates on Facebook. This has led more than 85% of current officials to “consider terminating their services if (the) environment worsens.”

What’s the consequence? According to the infographic, potentially it could mean fewer games, fewer opportunities at the lower levels in high school, and perhaps some sports being dropped altogether at some schools.

While the infographic doesn’t get into travel/club ball, fewer officials could mean even shorter games in an effort to cover the same number of games, or perhaps bringing in unqualified or untrained volunteers to pick up the slack. Yes, I know there are some bad umpires out there even with training, but the situation could get a whole lot worse.

So what’s the solution? I can think of a couple of things.

One is to be sure coaches, parents, and players treat officials with respect rather than imitating the bad behavior they see on TV. That not only gives current officials a reason to stay in it; it also encourages current players to stay in the game by officiating when their careers are done.

As part of that, coaches and players should shake the officials’ hands after every game – even if you think they blew a call that cost you the game. Just that act alone can mean a lot.

Stiffer penalties for those who verbally or especially physically abuse or threaten officials should be put in place and enforced vigorously. No official should ever have to wonder if he/she will be confronted by an angry coach or parent after a game.

Officiating organizations should also make an effort to reach out to high school and college players (and their parents, for that matter), encouraging them to sign up when they’re done playing. Sometimes all it takes is asking someone. They should do more than send an email. They should actually show up in person and present, in my opinion.

Those are just a few ideas I had. What about you? What do you think we can do to turn the tide and swell the ranks of quality officials?

The definition of sportsmanship – and class

This isn’t a fastpitch softball story, but it’s still one I found worth sharing because it demonstrates everything great about sports and what they teach you. Full disclosure: I am friends with Abbey D’Agostino’s uncle Tim and Aunt Janet Boivin so the story has a little extra impact for me.

If you haven’t heard, this happened during the women’s 5000 meter race at the Olympics. Everyone was running in a pack when Nikki (no relation to Hillary) Hamblin of New Zealand tripped, and the USA’s Abbey D’Agostino fell over her.

Understand that Abbey has waited a long time for this opportunity. If I recall correctly she just missed the cut for the 2012 Olympics while she was still in college, so making the team and having the opportunity to go for the gold was the fulfillment of a dream.

After falling like that, many runners would have just gotten up and tried to make up the time. That’s what being a competitor is supposedly all about. But Abbey saw that Nikki was hurt, and instead of taking off she stopped to help Nikki up off the ground and start running again.

Then, in an interesting turn, after both ran a few meters Abbey went down again. (Later we would discover she tore her ACL and meniscus when she fell originally. Nikki stopped to help her up, and the two of them proceeded to help each other finish the race. (Shades of Cool Runnings, eh?)

The other thing to understand is they weren’t friends before. They didn’t know each other at all. But they are bound together for life now.

We see a lot of negative things out there in the world. At softball parks we see all kinds of bad behavior from players, coaches, parents and fans. But this story is a reminder, on the biggest stage of all for most sports, of what it’s really all about.

If you’d like to learn more, here’s one of the many stories that have come out of this incident, complete with an interview of both runners.

Hopefully Abbey will be back on the track sooner rather than later and will have another shot at a medal. But if she never runs competitively again, she’s set an amazing standard for all athletes. Watch for the Disney movie in about five years. 🙂

What would Babe Ruth do?

This isn’t exactly fastpitch softball, but it does have to do with baseball — and it’s a really interesting article. My friend Ray Minchew sent it to me, so thanks, Ray.

The article was written Bill James, the guru behind The Baseball Abstract — that statistical analysis that once was looked down upon by the baseball Powers That Be but now is the Bible, or at least the law book, of the sport. But this time he’s not talking about statistics; he’s talking about all the gnashing of teeth over the use of steroid and how they’ve affected the record books.

As he looks at the current troubles, he harkens back to Babe Ruth and what he was like. I mean, you have to love an article that starts like this:

“First of all, I have absolutely no doubt that, had steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs existed during Babe Ruth’s career, Babe Ruth would not only have used them, he would have used more of them than Barry Bonds. I don’t understand how anyone can be confused about this. The central theme of Babe Ruth’s life, which is the fulcrum of virtually every anecdote and every event of his career, is that Babe Ruth firmly believed that the rules did not apply to Babe Ruth.”

Yet while he starts with a baseball premise, the always thoughtful James expands his premise to look at America as a whole and how we are really a nation of scofflaws at heart. We love our independence, and our right to do whatever we darn so please whenever we darn so please.

There’s more to it, but I can’t really do it justice her. Follow the link above and give it a look. It will make you smile and think at the same time.

The measure of a good teammate

So how far would you (or your daughter) go to be a good and caring teammate? Not to mention a good friend? I found out something the other day that really struck me as an example of what being a teammate is all about.

We were in what turned out to be our last game at Northern Nationals. It was a 1-1 game at that point, so the head coach and I agreed we were going to stay with what was working. That meant three of our players were probably not going to get into that game unless something changed.

Along about the bottom of the fifth, our defense came in off the field. The second hitter due up was Kaitlin. When the first hitter went to bat, I was informed by someone else on the team that she had run to the bathroom, which was not far from the field. The first hitter went down quickly, and Kaitlin hadn’t returned yet. So I looked down the bench and called for a pinch hitter (Erin) to take her place. I felt bad about it, but we were under time pressure and needed to get a hitter up. The pinch hitter, by the way, was a girl who had broken her nose a couple of weeks before and was finally cleared to play for this tournament.

Kaitlin came back as Erin was walking to the plate. There was a question on whether we could put Kaitlin in after all, but the sub had already been reported so we decided to leave her there. Erin got her at bat and we re-entered Kaitlin.

A couple of days ago I was talking to Kaitlin’s father when he let me in on a little secret. Kaitlin didn’t have to go to the bathroom, he said. She chose to go there so Erin would get a chance to bat.

That impressed me — giving up her last at-bat in our final tournament so a friend could get into the game. Of course I wish she would’ve just come to one of the coaches and offered it rather than running off to the bathroom. Still, it demonstrated a lot of character to make that sacrifice.

So many kids today are self-focused. We have a very narcissitic society. But Kaitlin put the feelings and interests of someone else ahead of her own. She set an example that others can learn from, and showed what being a member of a team is really all about. My hat’s off to her!

Another great story of softball sportsmanship

A friend of mine turned me on to this story today. I think it’s one that everyone involved in our sport of fastpitch softball should read, because it’s both a positive message and the epitome of what sports can be when we take egos out of it.

The basic story is about a top-level high school softball team that had a game scheduled against an underprivileged school that was just starting a softball program. It had all the makings of a horrible blowout. But instead, the coach of the top-level school made a decision to take it in another direction. I don’t want to say more because I don’t want to give away such a heartwarming story. But it’s definitely worth a read.

Here in the Northern suburbs of Chicago there’s a team that’s very similar to the have-nots. They have very little budget, the families can’t afford good equipment or private lessons, and most of the girls have never played fastpitch softball before they step onto the varsity field. Most games end with them being run ruled by a huge score in the minimum amount of innings. Several area coaches use those games to help their kids pad their stats, and they proudly report the scores and how they got there as if it was a great accomplishment.

I hope some of our local high school coaches read this story and get an idea of something else they can do the next time their team meets the have-nots. The whole sport would be better for it.

Great example of sportsmanship

Here’s a great example of coaches who understand that there’s more to life (and sports) than pummeling your opponents and running up your stats. It’s not from fastpitch softball, it’s from football, but I think the lesson here applies.

Essentially, two high school teams were playing. One was winning 46-0. The coach with 0 went to the other coach and asked if his team would allow a player with Down’s Syndrome who had suited up for every game but never played to score a touchdown. The coach with 46 agreed to give up his shutout on the last play to make it happen.

One kid got the thrill of a lifetime. But a whole lot of other kids got a lesson in sportsmanship and class. Kudos to both teams.

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