Archive for the ‘youth coaching’ Category
If you’re up early in Nashville Saturday — say, 6 a.m. — you can hear me being interviewed by Mickey Hiter on the Athletes Parents Show on 104.5 the Zone, your home of Tennessee Titans football, and where Frank Wycheck annually re-enacts the Music City Miracle for the new crop of interns with a package of Ding Dongs in the break room.
Not to crap on one of the greatest plays in sports history, but on No. 5, how could zero Miami DBs be in the end zone when it was the last, desperation play? Sheesh.
We talked about a lot of issues, so it’ll be a good listen for anyone who wants to hear some deep thoughts on the state of youth sports. Mickey does a lot of elite-level baseball training and coaching, and unlike your kid, his kid did go pro (four years in the independent minor leagues). Plus, Mickey was president of the Nashville Old Timers Baseball Association. How cool is that?
Also, you can listen to hear me call the host “George.” Man, Mickey, I’m so sorry I did that. You caught me after I was emailing back and forth with one of the editors on a youth sports-related piece I’m doing for MSNBC.com, an editor who happens to be named George. I’m like the Looney Tunes abominable snowman: “I will name him George, and I will hug him and pet him and squeeze him…”
These days as parents we’re all trained well enough to find sufficiently creepy the 40-year-old guy who stops by the park to play football with a bunch of 1o-year-olds he doesn’t know. Forget if there’s an unattached child running around at a youth league game. It’s the unattached adult we worry about.
This sensitivity, perhaps hypersensitivity, to strange adults (even those who don’t appear, well, strange) might not always be well-placed. But we know from enough viewings of Dateline, how-not-to-molest-children training and sex offender registries that child predators are everywhere, waiting for an opening to buy your child an ice cream and lead him or her to places you don’t even want to think about.
That was the thought when Jeffersonville, Ind., across the Ohio River from Jason Stinson’s Louisville, passed an ordinance in 2007 prohibiting sex offenders from entering city parks. However, the law did allow for offenders to apply for exemptions — say, if they had a kid, their own kid, playing in a game.
Eric Dowdell, convicted in 1996 of sexual battery of a 13-year-old girl, filed for one of those exemptions. But he did something more: he sued the city (with the help of the Indiana Civil Liberties Union). And on Tuesday, the Indiana Court of Appeals, overturning lower court decisions, ruled in Dowdell’s favor by a 2-1 margin.
The basis for that ruling was that Dowdell, as per his sentence, was taken off the Indiana sex offender registry in 2006. According to the Jeffersonville/New Albany News and Tribune, the appeals court majority wrote that Jeffersonville’s ordinance “is unconstitutional as it applies to Dowdell because he served his sentence and completed his requirement to register on the sex offender list before the ordinance was passed.”
Had Dowdell’s case come up a few months ago, he might have lost again. But on April 30, the Indiana Supreme Court, in Wallace v. State of Indiana, overturned the conviction of an Indianapolis man on charges of failing to register as a sex offender because he had been convicted and served his punishment before Indiana’s sex offender registry was in place. The court said applying current law to something that wasn’t an offense at the time violated the Indiana consitution, and the U.S. Constitution spells out explicitly that states can’t pass ex post facto laws, nor can the federal government.
The Indiana appeals court had more criticism that just barring offenders no longer on a registry. From the News Tribune:
While the Court of Appeals’ decision would only apply to people who were no longer required to register as a sex offender when the ordinance was passed, the opinion was critical of the “excessive” steps that must be taken for a convicted offender to receive an exemption.
Chief Judge John Baker described the exemption process as “extraordinarily burdensome and virtually illusory.” He notes that the offender must provide a “legitimate reason” for the exemption and would have to go through the application process each time a new activity arises.
He writes that the offender is required to provide a “plethora of documents” to the judge, and even then, the judge still must find that “good cause” exists for the exemption. Baker wrote that the ordinance never specifies what would constitute “good cause.”
The court also found that by requiring the offender to notify a sponsoring league organization before requesting an exemption, the offender also is exposed to humiliation.
Interestingly, the same appeals court ruled in favor of a Plainfield, Ind., law that barred anyone currently on a sex offender registry (though not those who had formerly been on one) from entering a cit park. The Indiana Civil Liberties Union has appealed the case to the state Supreme Court, and with the Wallace ruling, there’s some sense it could win.
I have to admit, cases like this challenge my usually let-freedom-ring, liberal ideals. Perhaps that’s because I’m dealing with this issue on a more personal level. Three years ago, the father of one of my daughter’s best friends, who lives only a few houses away, was arrested on charges of distributing child pornography. Believe you me, that was not a pleasant conversation with my kids, the one where my wife and I tried to ask a 6-year-old girl and an 8-year-old boy if they ever saw anything, um, unusual in the house, or if the neighbor ever did anything, um, strange to them. Fortunately, nothing happened. (Turns out he was a distributor only, not a creator.)
It was an uncomfortable, interminable time as his case would through the court system. Beyond how to negotiate allowing my daughter to play with her friend while staying away from a creep (she had to come right home if he showed up), I also coached his daughter on softball for two seasons. He mostly kept a low profile, knowing that everyone knew what he was accused of doing (it was in the local paper and on the TV news). But usually he would show up in the middle innings, standing away from the crowd, but close enough I could hear his grating voice cheering on his daughter.
I asked a fellow coach, an attorney, what we could do. Clearly, this guy made everyone uncomfortable. Being an attorney, this coach said, well, the guy gets his day in court, and there’s nothing we can do. I glumly accepted he was right, but I also warned him that we shouldn’t be surprised if parents object when he showed up. (Surprisingly, to me, no one registered any sort of formal complaint.)
Now my former neighbor is in jail, serving a two-year sentence. It’s a breath of fresh air, really — at least I know where he is and most importantly, where he isn’t. Both my daughter and her friend still play softball — different teams now, but still the same league. So what happens when he’s released?
I know he’ll be on an offender list. But while I know he’s served his time and probably won’t do anything with parents about, I personally can’t stand the thought of seeing him at games. In particular, I can’t stand to think about what perverted thoughts are going to be on his mind as he watches kids play. Maybe he’ll be rehabbed, but the recidivism rate is high in this sort of crime. I’d be more than happy if there were invisible fencing around every field, and that this guy wore a collar and got his neck zapped if he ever stepped too close.
I guess that’s why we have laws and courts and such — to balance our baser instincts with fairness and sanity. I can understand completely why Jeffersonville isn’t happy to see Eric Dowdell show up for a ballgame. I also can understand why the courts say he can. The whole thing turns my stomach in knots.
A few days ago, Little League International issued the following statement:
While Little League International has not received any reports of Little League volunteers or players making alterations to bats designed to increase their performance, it has been an issue in some upper levels of play.
In an effort to ensure this does not become a problem in Little League, this policy statement has been prepared and may be distributed to volunteers, parents and players.
No bat, in any level of Little League Baseball or Softball play, is permitted to be altered. This is of particular concern especially when it is clearly done to enhance performance and violate bat standards. Making such alterations to bats is clearly an inappropriate attempt to gain an unfair advantage, and cheating has no place in our program. Umpires, managers and coaches are instructed to inspect bats before games and practices – as they always should – to determine if bats might have been altered.
This includes using the appropriate Little League Bat Ring. If a bat does not clearly pass through the correct size ring, or if it has a flat spot on it, the bat must not be used. (This may simply indicate the bat has become misshapen with use, and does not necessarily indicate it was purposely altered. Still, the bat must be removed.)
Other signs to look for include contorted or mangled end-caps or knobs on non-wood bats. This could indicate that machinery was used to “shave” the inside of the bat to make it lighter. Bats with evidence of this type of tampering also must not be used.
Little League International wishes to make it clear that tampering with bats (or any other piece of equipment) is dangerous, and the equipment must not be used in any Little League game or practice.
I’ve tried in vain to find some huge story out there that might have precipitated Little League putting out a statement. The closest thing I could find is something that happened last year — so this could be a warning not to pull the stuff that the Kendall, Fla., Little League team allegedly pulled.
The team was booted out of last year’s Little League World Series after being accused of “using illegal bats, improper diamond dimensions and putting together the all-star team too early.”
OK, that might explain the release of a statement on illegal bats. But there must have been some other reports coming in that the wider world hasn’t heard about. Otherwise, Little League International would have put out concurrent statements about diamond size and all-star team configuration.
UPDATE: Mark Hyman at Youth Sports Parents surmises the LL release was a result of accusations of bat-tampering in the NCAA. Hyman found a story in the Birmingham News that discusses the suspicions that the bats (through not the players) are juiced.
Kurt Vonnegut, “Breakfast of Champions.”
At least in my experience as a youth sports coach, I’ve found that even the worst asshole parents are coming from a good place — trying to do the best for their kids. So I respect that. Not that I don’t think they’re “helping” in the same way my 3-year-old daughter “helps” putting her clothes away. But I break the “assholes” down into these categories:
1. Parents who are new to youth sports. They’ll yell instructions from time to time, but they’re basically harmless. I don’t confront anybody about this kind of stuff, because eventually they’ll back off when their kids get older. Plus, this is usually at an age I’m so busy paying traffic cop that I don’t have time to notice.
2. Parents who have a hard time letting go of controlling their kid. Often this overlaps with No. 1. Again, if they aren’t being disruptive, I’m not going to say anything, even if they talk through the dugout to their kid. Hey, I’m just coaching youth sports here, not running the Lakers. As long as they aren’t yelling at me or other kids, this is an issue I leave to the parents and kids to work out.
3. Parents who really feel like their kid has a chance to be a star. Many times you do find these parents coaching, usually to the detriment of your kid, whom they’re ignoring to promote Freddie Futuremajorleaguer. But if they’re not coaching, they’re paying people plenty of money to do so, and they’re yelling at you for failing their child. I look at this like George being run off the floor by Coach Dale in Hoosiers: “Look, mister, there’s… two kinds of dumb, uh… guy that gets naked and runs out in the snow and barks at the moon, and, uh, guy who does the same thing in my living room. First one don’t matter, the second one you’re kinda forced to deal with.” Except in this case I get to run off the parent. If a parent really thinks I’m a problem and wants to pull their kids off the team, I say, have at it. It’s just better for everyone involved. This is also why (except for rec league basketball) I don’t coach past about age 10. At least in basketball I know a little bit what I’m doing. I just don’t know enough in other sports, and don’t have the time commitment to make, to help anyone, future star or not.
4. Parents who feel like you’re picking on their kid. In the rare times I’ve dealt with this, I’ve felt the looming background of twisted family dynamics that I don’t want to get into. That’s kinda why with the other categories I don’t get any more confrontive than I have to — I don’t know, and I don’t want to know, what’s going on behind closed doors. They can see a therapist to work that out.
5. Parents who gossip about you, or organize against you behind your back. I’m going to guess this happens more with travel teams. Anyway, whatever the reason, if this has happened to me (and I’ve tried to remain as blissfully unaware as possible), I’ve just stayed out of it. I’m done at season’s end, and we’ll all go our separate ways. Life’s too short. Unless the someone it gets taken out on my kid. But I’ve never seen anything like that.
6. Finally, parents who are just plain assholes. They’re loud, they’re drunk, they’re stupid. Fortunately, the other parents help you with these folks, because they’re just as sick of them as you are.
Blogging has been a little sporadic lately, I know. The danger of posting as a youth sports coach and parent is that sometimes you get crunched by the responsibilities of being a youth sports coach and parent. Particularly when there has been a zillion rainouts, and you have two kids with softball/baseball teams (including the one you manage) playing four games a week (it seems) to make up all the missed games.
Speaking of which, that resulted in a situation on Saturday where I barked like one of my yappy Maltese dogs because an 11- and 12-year-old team refused to get off the field (on orders from its league vp) even though my T-ball team had the field for a regularly scheduled game, and they were there for a rainout. This was on our league’s one major field (we use neighborhood park fields otherwise). What upset me was not that someone made a mistake in scheduling, but that we were brushed aside because we only had little kids. I can’t say I was proud of how snippy I got, but the overall league president stepped in and order the bigger-kids team off the field (rightly so), and we got to play. Plus, some of the parents who got their kids up early (it was a 9 a.m. game) were pretty cranky themselves at the thought they dragged everyone’s butt out of bed only to be told to turn around and go home and get out of the big kids’ way.
I’m over it now. Really!
A Minnesota soccer coach, on his blog, says he was clear from last fall on: if his 12-and-under girls’ soccer somehow pulled off the miracle of looking like it would beat an affiliated, elite 13-and-under team in tournament competition, he would, in his words, “probably find a way for the 13s to go through over our team.”
And, by god, that’s exactly what happened. And now Mark Abboud, a former pro player, is out of a job as technical director of the elite Minnesota Thunder Academy program and is busy working as the latest youth sports morality play.
The academy, which runs recreational and elite programs, tossed out Abboud, fined him $600 (to be paid to charity) and only kept him on as a 12s coach for the rest of the season by the grace of the girls, for an incident May 17.
Abboud slowly and painfully recounts the day in his season blog, giving both the reader and Abboud himself the imagery of seeing a car wreck before it happens, yet not being able to avoid it.
Abboud’s team of 12s, as he recounts, was basically in a state cup tournament for the experience. In past years, Abboud had seen a predecessor team to the Thunder, a team he coached, lose to a younger squad, then get smacked in the state tournament. He didn’t feel it was valuable to younger girls to get clobbered, nor did he believe it was best for the program for that to happen. No one objected when he put that idea forth — after all, what are the odds?
So game day comes when Abboud’s team faces the Thunder’s elite 13-year-olds, and he tells his girls to go out and play hard. He even switches up his offensive and defensive set to improve his girls’ chances. In a tribute to Abboud’s skills, it works — too well. “My thoughts were a-whirl,” Abboud wrote May 18. “The 13s are a better team overall than we were. They would do our club proud at Regionals if they got past either the White team or EP (game was to be played after ours). It would be better for the club and for MN to have them represent the state at the Midwest Region Championships. We were here for the experience. I was silently cheering for the 13s to score a goal.”
The game is tied at 1 at the end of regulation. And at the end of two overtimes. Time for penalty kicks.
And Abboud makes good on his vow. He instructs his girls to kick slowly to the 13s goalie. Apparently the 12s didn’t get the message, because they reportedly were sobbing at the news. (I understand — I worked at a magazine where we were told by the publisher no matter how well we did, the focus always would be on making the sister magazine we spun out thrive, with us left to die. I found a new job not too long after that inspiring pep talk.)
Abboud, in his own words, immediately regretted his presumably well-reasoned, well-thought out decision.
What did I just do? I took the decision out of the girls’ hands and dictated a controllable ending to a match against the spirit of competition and of the game itself. Albeit I still stand behind the rationale used in this case, I’m thinking again it was not the right way to deal with the situation. It would have been helpful to have a club coach or director around to bounce this idea off of prior to acting it out.
The look of disappointment and betrayal that some of them held in their eyes was crushing to me. I was so frustrated with the whole thing that I accidentally said “Some of you are going to be poutty and b-i-t-c-h-y to me because of this, but I hope you understand my thought process.” I’ve never used that language with a youth team before, though I’m sure they’ve heard far worse. The b-word broke the ice, eliciting chuckles from almost every girl, but I still regretted the slip. And regret was already building about other things.
Though many other MTA coaches and directors were supportive later that afternoon to my face, we’ll see what the next days bring. I thought it was the right decision to make at the time (and for the entire last year), I take full responsibility for any repercussions, and through this writing that is always insightful and constructive to me, I’m starting to regret the choice.
The Minneapolis Star-Tribune did a story on Abboud’s Sophie’s Choice that didn’t shy away from what Abboud did, but was pretty sympathetic, though the 132 reader comments (as of this writing) are, uh, not.
I’ll say this first: Abboud must be pretty well-liked for his 12s to accept him after being shafted, so much so that they begged the Thunder to let him stay on as coach. But not to pile on to Abboud’s self-flagellation, that was a dumb decision. Especially dumb because he had so much time to think about it. He decided last fall this would happen? Did he run this by his board of directors? Maybe the parents or others didn’t object, because they probably didn’t think anything of it — until it became reality.
It’s funny that while the usual complaints about youth sports is coach’s win-at-all-costs attitude, Abboud gets slammed for losing on purpose. But the idea is to try. If the 13s can’t beat the 12s, that’s their problem. You can’t decide they would do better later, that they’re having an off day, so you have to game the results for them. Abboud was trying to help, but like my wife says when I throw her delicates in the dryer, you’re not helping.
I know, from reading his blog, that Abboud knows all that. However, I would lose my license as a sports pundit if I didn’t same something. (And Coach Abboud, feel free to contact me if you wish to speak further about this.)
By the way, the Thunder isn’t the only one handing out punishment over this. Inside Minnesota Soccer reported June 1 that the Minnesota Youth Soccer Youth Association not only banned Abboud from coaching in state cup competition through 2010, but they handed the same sanction to the 13s coach, Andy Kassa, as well. (Apparently there was evidence Abboud tipped off Kassa to what he was doing.) The 13s also were booted out of state competition — so much for getting the better team ahead.
Abboud wrote in his blog — not updated since May 21 — that he figured some punishment would be coming down. After all, it doesn’t matter if you’re shaving points because you’re in cahoots with gamblers or shaving points because you think you’re helping your club — even in no-score leagues, people don’t take kindly to coaches who tell their players to stop trying.
Hilarious blog post by a guy who sees Ed Kranepool first the guy is a kid and the soon-to-be-retired New York Met is speaking to his Little League banquet (after the guy, and Kranepool, have had shitty seasons), and then sees him again when the guy grows up to be a youth coach. After this, I’m going to book Kranepool for every youth sports ceremony I’ll ever be involved in.
The rest of us got nothing to wash down our lukewarm helping of baked ziti but a couple of pints of envy and self-loathing.
If that wasn’t motivation enough to make you either give up or hit the batting cages, amid all the evening’s glorious ode to excellence and victory was the night’s speaker: Ed Kranepool.
Ed had just finished his 18th and final year with the New York Mets. This dated from the team’s comically inept 1962 inaugural (featuring a still record worst 120 losses out of 160 games) to its 1969 World Series-winning “Miracle Mets” then right back down to the pitifully ugly cellar dwellers of 1979. His nickname “Steady Eddie” came about not so much for his prowess as a pinch hitter but because he continued to show up despite the regular beatings.
That night, Ed discussed how crappy the Mets were and how awful it was playing on a consistently bad team. A strange talk to give a group of baseball-crazed, gung-ho kids but damned if I ever wanted to be Ed Kranepool after that — miserable and mediocre.
I enjoyed several good-to-great seasons of baseball after that. Then I discovered girls, rock music and under-age drinking and my priorities changed, which is neither here nor there. But I still felt I owed Ed Kranepool his due.
A few months ago, more than 30 years after that fateful night, I again came face-to-face with Steady Eddie. He was at the Mets’ new ballpark, propped up against a waist-high table, pretty much alone. I walked up, introduced myself and asked for an autograph. As he signed, I told him about that Little League banquet.
“Did I hand you a trophy?” he asked.
“No. But you did make a speech. Mostly about how awful the Mets were that season.”
“Well,” he said, “you can’t make chicken salad out of chicken shit. Enjoy the game.”
Now that’s wisdom worth passing on to beleaguered youth sports coaches and players alike.
“Hello, folks! Thanks for coming out! Remember, you can’t make chicken salad out of J.J. Putz!“