Your Kid’s Not Going Pro

A Youth Sports Blog

Archive for the ‘good seeds’ Category

Sports radio does something other than call for the manager’s firing

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Millsap, Texas, population 350, was looking at possibly having to shake $20 out of every man, woman and child to pay for the $7,000 theft of equipment from Millsap Youth Athletics. That is, until a talk radio station two counties to the east, in Dallas, took up their cause, what with their good heart and so much time on the air being freed up since Terrell Owens left town.


Um, that’s Millsap, not Milsap.

The folks at ESPN 103.3 raised $3,000 on the air through bids on a sports ticket package until an anonymous listener called in, off the air, to pledge $5,000.

From the Fort Worth Star-Telegram:

[Millsap Youth Athletics secretary Rita] Switzer was profoundly grateful.

“Whoever this anonymous donor is, I love you, I love you, I love you,” she said.

Switzer said smaller donations have come from residents across North Texas, both pledged on the telephone and sent through the mail.

Switzer said the community’s response to the theft is teaching the children about the good in people and how positive things can come out of bad.

“Before every meeting we have, the first thing we do is we pray. We pray for God to watch over the kids and for him to allow us to be the best we can be,” she said. “I feel this is an answer to those prayers.”

 I was just crying the whole time I was listening. They talked that story up like we were big-leaguers.”

Millsap isn’t the only youth sports organization to get a helping hand in a crisis wrought by theft. The Blue Island (Ill.) Little League has shaken a lot of helping hands after it lost $3,000 in food and equipment in a concession stand burglary. One man gave the whole kaboodle. The Chicago White Sox kicked in $500 and free tickets for the players. Other parents and other leagues kicked in some money, as well.

It’s nice to know that in a crisis, you can find friends in unexpected places. Especially if you can get the word out. Seriously leagues — if you suffer a sudden loss, let the world know so someone can help.

My father, R.I.P.

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Pictured above is Ken Cook, my father. As I type this, I am getting ready to make another trip back to Carmel, Ind., because I am told the pancreatic cancer he was diagnosed with last October is going to claim him very, very soon at the age of 66.

A long time ago, a friend and I talked about whether we eventually are doomed (our word) to become our fathers, a conversation that was a bit of debate about genetic vs. environment because I’m adopted. All I can say is, every time I take coffee to the bathroom, I am Ken Cook.

But this being a youth sports site, and your probably not wanting to know about my bathroom habits (or my father’s), I can certainly share how he influenced my own sporting life as a child, and how he still influences it as an adult.

Of course, he always was good about playing catch with my brother and I, or playing quarterback while he and I ran routes against each other. One big advantage in having my father as a dad was that as a child he was forced to stop being left-handed, that being the rage when he was a child. So when he played catch with me, he could put on my brother’s right-handed glove. When he played catch with my brother, he could wear my left-handed glove.

I can tell you that my dad certainly would agree with the idea about Your Kid Not Going Pro, because he never had such aspirations for us, even when as a 6-year-old I was leaving older kids in the dust in long-distance races up and down my block. School always was first, and steering us toward a steady career was what he had in mind.

If he was thinking sports first, he wouldn’t have pulled me out of kindergarten in my Owosso, Mich., school and put me in first grade in the local Catholic school as a result of my kindergarten teacher being royally pissed I knew how to read, mainly because I was reading the other kids the notes she was writing to their parents about what brats they were. Thus, I was always two calendar years younger than my peers — the opposite of what you do if you want your kid to go pro.

If he was thinking sports first, he (and my mom — she was no bystander) wouldn’t have yanked me off of my sixth-grade basketball team when I was in my brief, intense budding delinquent phase. So often you hear the argument kids should stay on a team when they’re troubled because it provides structure. My father, colorful with language as he was, would respond: Fuck that shit, dumbass.

If he was thinking sports first, he wouldn’t have yanked my brother and I off our Little League team in North Muskegon, Mich., (we moved around a lot — dad was transferred frequently in his job with the phone company) when I was 10 and my brother was 9. He thought the coach was a jackass, in no small part because — six years after Carolyn King on the other side of the state in Ypsilanti successfully sued to force Little League to drop their no-girls rule — that coach wouldn’t allow girls on his team. My dad was conservative politically, and was not exactly out there campaigning for ratification of the ERA. But he had a strong sense of fairness. His judgment was vindicated when the next year we played on a Little League team, which had a girl on the roster, won our town championship — while the other coach’s team finished last.

If he was thinking sports first, he would have pushed my brother and I to sign up and stay on teams, rather than letting us decide what we wanted to do. If we didn’t speak up, he didn’t sign us up. And when I quit running cross country and track after my sophomore year of high school, his words were something like, “OK.” But he was there for my meets, and those of my brother, who did stick it out all the way through. He wasn’t disinterested, but he wasn’t going to shell out money and time if we didn’t care ourselves.

And in all of that, I feel his influence. I probably push a little more, maybe a result of me coaching so many of my kids’ teams. But I don’t sign up my kids for anything they don’t want to do, and if they don’t want to do it anymore after the season is over, that’s fine by me. And I agree that school comes first, and sports comes way behind that. It’s fun, and it’s great, but… well, the blog title applies to my own kids as well.

My dad, though living three hours away, made it to some of my kids’ games, the last one being one of my 6-year-old son’s bowling league matches. That was after he was diagnosed. I know he was very proud, and he made sure to give my 6-year-old the 15-pound ball he used for years in his own playing days, understanding of course that my son is a bit far away from being able to lift it.

Soon my dad will be gone. But he’ll always be around, as you can see. Now, I’m going to get some coffee.

UPDATE: My father died early this morning in his home. He died peacefully, knowing he had a lot of love and support in his final days.

Why kids love organized sports

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This is my 6-year-old son, Ryan, who is in his first year of T-ball. With his father being his manager, Ryan got the privilege of trying on his uniform before anyone else. It was an extremely exciting moment. “I’ve been waiting for years to put this on!” he told me as he handled his Phillies shirt.

Ryan has spent years watching his older brother and sister putting on their uniforms, so he had a long time to think about how this moment would feel. (Putting on his shirt for his bowling league apparently didn’t count, because it didn’t come with matching cap, pants and socks.) He kept his uniform on all afternoon, until it was time to get ready for bed.

Often there is the assumption that kids would be happiest with adults staying out of the way. But for a lot of children, organized sports is a big moment. It’s a sign they’re growing up, that they’re big kids, because what little kid gets to put on a uniform and have people watch him play? The problem with youth sports isn’t always that adults are involved. The problem is how they’re involved.

My job as manager is to make sure that Ryan — and all his teammates — are still as excited about baseball as the moment they got their uniform. Or at least not make them less excited that I’m not the reason they decide baseball isn’t their sport.

One of the good ones is taken

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Contrary to public belief, or the feeling you might get reading this blog, not every coach is a nutjob or is under siege from parents. Hugo Bustamante was one of the good ones. Unfortunately, outside his immediate circle, no one knew that until tragedy struck.

Bustamante, 46, and a co-worker died Thursday when they were shot to death by a fellow co-worker at the Long Beach Memorial Hospital pharmacy in California. The attacker then shot and killed himself. Police don’t know his motive, and they think they might never know.

Bustamante was married with a young daughter and son. According to this story from the Orange County Register, Bustamente helped out with his daughter’s softball team but spent most of his coaching time with soccer. He was, to say the least, not a yeller. From the Register:

When he was volunteered to help coach his daughter’s AYSO soccer team, the Cypress Cyclones, the former college soccer player smiled and helped coach them to compete in a Southern California championship game.

At the start of the season, Bustamante’s gentle demeanor had some parents wondering whether he could push the kids hard enough, but he made believers of them, team mom Melissa Tan-Torres said.

“He had that soft, gentle voice, but he could get the kids to do what he wanted,” Tan-Torres said.

“He was exactly everything right about youth sports. He never pushed them,” said Glenn Morikawa, whose daughter played on the Cyclones.

Being right about youth sports also gained Bustamante a measure of fame in the Los Angeles area.

When Bustamante’s U-10-year-old girls qualified for the state finals by default because the team that beat them could not afford the trip, the Cyclones tried to raise the money for their opponents so they could play in the championship game instead of going themselves.

The team only ended up raising $300, but one of the fundraising e-mails was sent to KIIS-FM D.J. Ryan Seacrest, who paid for a charter bus and hotel rooms for the Huntington Park team and gave the kids spending money for the trip, Tan-Torres said.

On the way back, the girls from the Huntington Park and Cypress teams got to be special guests of the Los Angeles Sol and go out on the field at halftime of one of their games.

The team was to be honored at Saturday’s Los Angeles Dodgers game, but decided to cancel after Bustamante’s death.

RIP, coach. And let’s remember there are more of him out there than you’d think.

It’s over

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My fifth- and sixth-grade coed team lost its last game, 15-8, to finish fourth in a four-team league. And I couldn’t be prouder.

A team mostly comprised of kids who had never played in a league, or had ever handled a basketball, proved to me and themselves that when they put their minds to it, they can play great ball and hang with anybody. Unfortunately, they were still learning how to put four good quarters together. They were flat in the first quarter and were down 7-0 — the difference in the game.

Still, I’m thrilled they fought hard to the bitter end, and that they all seemed to be enjoying themselves. At the end-of-season banquet (i.e., pizza in the gym), kids who didn’t know each other two months before were yukking it up like they had been friends for years. Having a part in that is one of the many reasons I keep coaching. Another is when parents thank you and complement you for the job you do. Really, the pleasure is mine, but you can’t help but feel good when parents say nice things to you.

My daughter, now in fourth grade, is interested in having me coach her next year. I hope to see my fifth-graders come back next year.

Next up: being an assistant basketball coach for a seventh- and eighth-grade team in the same park district. My brother-in-law will be the head coach, and my nephew is playing. So is my sixth-grade son. They allowed sixth-graders in to fill out the roster because not enough kids signed up. More on those subjects (junior high opportunities and the economy’s effect on participation) at another time.

Written by rkcookjr

January 24, 2009 at 10:02 pm

The last game

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Tomorrow is the last game for my fifth- and sixth-grade coed basketball team. It’s both a high and a low. The high is seeing the on-court equivalent of a final exam, watching players do things they weren’t capable of only a few months, watching kids who barely knew each other two months ago addressing each other as teammates, equals, and friends. The low is, well, that it’s over.


To be played at the final game.

I hope as a coach I’ve taught them to appreciate, respect and cherish a sport I love. And that I’ve taught them how to be good and supportive teammates. I guess the final exam tomorrow should tell me whether I’ve been successful. All I know is, I’ll always have fond memories of coaching this group of kids.

Written by rkcookjr

January 23, 2009 at 3:27 pm

The lesson of winning: it’s better than losing

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At some point in every season and sport I coach, there is a moment when I can feel my emotions really well up. What I mean is, I’m fighting back tears. Those are the moments when the team is playing as a team, scrapping and fighting hard, loving being around each other, and making me feel good that maybe I taught them something about a sport, and making a commitment to it and your teammates.

Saturday was that moment with my fifth- and sixth-grade coed basketball team.

I mentioned earlier that team had gone Detroit Lions for the season. The last two games we lost something like 34-3 and 29-6. It was disheartening for me as a coach, mainly because I have a group of players mostly new to organized ball, and I wondered if the results on the court were a large part because I wasn’t doing my job teaching them how to play and enjoy the game. It didn’t help that I was letting my frustration show. I wasn’t all screamy, but I was getting a little yelly, at least in barking constant instructions on the court. As a player’s dad said to me before this most recent game, the hardest thing about this team is that they’re all nice kids, so many of them were tentative about the idea of mixing it up on the court to the point they were bumping people around.

Apparently my team had built a reputation as an easy mark. The coach of my opponent Saturday — a person whom I like and respect — told me before the game that he treating this game as kind of a practice, trying some new things on defense and concentrating on letting players who rarely scored have a chance to do so. He asked me whether I might do the same on offense. I said, “Yes, because all of my players are struggling to score.” I applauded his effort to give some of his kids a shot at glory. But I felt kind of insulted he figured he could do that against my team and win.

He instincts looked correct in the first quarter. We scored the first basket, then gave up six in a row to go down 12-2 at the end of the first quarter. Even though I was trying a few twists to ensure we didn’t turn over the ball near the midcourt line, we turned it over. We weren’t blocking out or aggressively going after loose balls. As usual, we were getting open shots but couldn’t hit them. Or we turned the ball over trying to go one-on-three in the lane. This time, I sat back and didn’t shout instructions so much. Clearly, whatever I was doing was not going to take with a group still trying to get comfortable with the basics of the game.

Or so I thought.

We only scored one basket the next quarter, but they scored none. That was good. The defensive lockdown kept coming. Our guards (including my 11-year-old) were cutting off every drive attempt. Our inside players were putting their arms up, blocking out and getting rebounds on both sides of the court. We stopped turning the ball over. Shots were missed, but at least it looked like we settled down. Seeing we were down by so much early, my opposing coach rested his best player most of the quarter and tried to get the ball to kids who hadn’t scored, but it didn’t seem to hurt him much.

I told the kids at halftime to keep playing hard, keep passing the ball around, keep attacking the basket. The same things I said all year. I wasn’t sure whether they believed me.

They believed me.

The third quarter was another defensive lockdown — zero points. Meanwhile, one of our players hit shots on consecutive possessions to cut the score to 12-8. The kids on the bench noticed the score. “Only two more shots to tie!” “We’re coming back!” I could feel them getting antsy and excited. I could hear our parents across the court come to life as they never had. The opposing coach put his best player back in. The kids on the court had an extra hop in their step, and were chasing down and taking away balls like they were trying to protect their favorite Christmas gift. Players who once had to stop and think what to do on transition were sprinting the other direction as soon as the ball changed hands.

We hit another shot to cut the score to 12-10 at quarter’s end. With three minutes left in the fourth, we hit a jumper to take a 14-12 lead. Our parents were going crazy. The opposing coach called timeout. When the kids gathered around me, the ones who used to complain they were tired or sore by this time in the game, who were begging to come out, were now steely-eyed and ready to attack. I told them what a great job they were doing, and to keep doing it. One player asked if they should slow the ball down. I said, nope — don’t change a thing.

The last three minutes were interminable. That’s in part to the opposing coach using all four of his timeouts in that period. It was worse than a college game, though, hey, it was his right. I ran out of things to say to my team by the time the second timeout was over.

Nobody on either team could get a clean shot off. This level of play might be mostly about teaching the game, but the kids always know the score, and my kids knew they didn’t want to go through the whole season without one victory. Their kids didn’t want to lose to the team that had gotten smacked around all season.

With about 30 seconds left, it looked like possible disaster for our team. Their best player got a steal and began sprinting upcourt, with teammates on either side. Our kids sprinted hard to keep up, including my son. LAKEVIEW DRIVE RULES* IN EFFECT: He spun around at the top of the key, right in front of the opponent’s best player, stuck an arm out — and poked the ball away. Game saved. When the final buzzer went off, my kids reacted like they had just won a championship.

I did, too. When my team in this league won a title last year, I was fighting back tears because I was so proud of what the kids accomplished. Especially because that team was down by 6 entering the final quarter. I remember telling them to play hard and have fun, because there were only eight minutes left in the season. And they played hard enough to score nine straight point to win. With this year’s team, I was glad for them that they won, but in awe at how they fought back, at how they decided individually and as a team that they were tired of getting sand kicked in their faces, and that they were going to kick a little sand themselves. (Strangely enough, both games were against the same coach.)

After every game, like most teams we gather in a circle and put our hands in the middle, yelling something in unison like “team” or “hustle” before we break. As we put our hands in Saturday, one boy on the team said, “Let’s say, ‘Winners!'”

“Yes,” I said. “Let’s say it.”

*Note: Lakeview Drive Rules dates back to me teen years. As a friend and I would walk up and down <a href=”

“>his street talking about our tortured adolescent lives, and we would invoke Lakeview Drive Rules to allow ourselves a little bragging, as long as it was in the context of the conversation and absolutely truthful. So if I ever brag in the context of a post, I will invoke Lakeview Drive Rules. You are welcome to do the same.

Wii Fit is God

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I’m not on the Nintendo payroll, and whatever deity you may or may not worship knows that the company isn’t throwing me any cabbage so I can hype its products on a site that so far has gotten seven unique visitors. (But, Nintendo, I’m a hopeless whore, so feel free to contact me with any offer!)

Still, I can’t stop from raving about Wii Fit, to the point where people on my train wish I would do something less annoying, like sniffle loudly as I have a long conversation on my cellphone regarding butt warts.

It’s a beautifully simple product. You use a remote and a balance board (which looks like a cheap bathroom scale) to perform numerous exercises and games (yes, games) to improve your fitness. There’s yoga, strength training, aerobic training and balance games. Wii Fit can put you through a daily body test to measure your weight and balance, and charts it all. You can log in other physical activity so the trainer (male version, pictured above) doesn’t make passive-aggressive comments about where you’ve been.

The pluses are many. First, it’s convenient. You don’t have to drive to a gym, or worry about whether it’s too cold and icy to run. Second, it’s educational. You’re instructed in how to do exercises the correct way, including images that pop up to show how well you’re balancing (that Tylenol with the red dot pictured above), thus showing you whether you’re getting the benefit of your exercise. Third, it’s competitive. You’re scored on how well you do each exercise. The better you score, the quicker you unlock more reps and more exercises. Also, you can compare yourself to other family members, friends or hobos who come through and use the system as well.

Now what does this have to do with youth sports? Why, I’m glad I asked.

If you have a child who is not athletically inclined or tends to be inactive, this is an easy, painless way to get him or her to exercise. After all, it IS a video game. With my own kids, even if I’m being hardass dad and putting a limit on killing zombies or chasing after the Lego Ark of the Covenant, I’ll tell them they still can play Wii Fit.

Invigorating, but technically not exercise.

If you have a child who is involved with sports, at any level, Wii Fit lets you hire a personal trainer for your kids without spending a bunch of money (about $400 total for the system and Wii Fit, assuming you can find either) or embarrassing yourself by admitting to people you hired a personal trainer for your 3-year-old. Yes, a 3-year-old can figure out Wii Fit; at least mine has.

I’ve had Wii Fit only since November, but I’ve noticed my 11-year-old son has more energy and quickness on the basketball court thanks to his frequent workouts, and that my 6-year-old is more balanced and stronger when he bowls. (Hey, bowling is a sport!) It will interesting to see how it affects my 9-year-old daughter when softball starts, but in the short term it’s sparked an interest in yoga, so much so that she’s now signed up for classes at a real yoga studio. She’s also started talking about Buddhism, thus indeed turning Wii Fit into a religious experience.