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Posts Tagged ‘coaching

After dismissals and defections, high school hoops coach calls up full junior varsity

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Not unusual: players being called up from junior varsity to varsity in the middle of the season. Unusual: the whole junior varsity team being called up to varsity in the middle of the season.

It’s happened at East Henderson High in Hendersonville, N.C. Between the players that new coach Clint Loftin dismissed for “lack of heart,” and those that quit the team, East Henderson lost six players between Dec. 15 and New Year’s. So for their first game of the calendar year, Jan. 4, Loftin called up all 10 JV players to join the six varsity players who were left. East Henderson lost to Smoky Mountain High, 76-33, to fall to 2-8.

From BlueRidgeNow.com:

“Believe it or not, I’m not too upset with the loss tonight because there was never a moment in the game that I felt like they stopped playing,” Loftin said. “It was really a JV team playing against a varsity team.”

Since Loftin made the decision to pull up the entire JV squad, the complete team had only practiced together twice before Tuesday’s game. …

“We will come in tomorrow and have an unbelievable practice because of the kind of kids they are,” Loftin said. “I leave practice energetic and excited now.”

Although the many changes right in the middle of the season have caused somewhat of a setback, East Athletic Director John Bryant said the school is standing behind Loftin, but above all, behind its student-athletes.

“It’s been difficult and challenging right now, but we believe in the kids that are here,” Bryant said. “While it’s been a difficult time, there is also a joy in seeing the resilience of the kids and the coach. We’re continuing to believe in them.”

The parents of the departed players planned to complain at the Jan. 10 school board meeting, although it appears the snowstorm moving through the region is keeping the sides apart for now.

So what precipitated all this? Apparently Loftin decided that three players — including Shack Davis, the team’s starting point guard and an all-state football player — suffered from a “lack of heart.” According to BlueRidgeNow.com, following a Dec. 14 loss, Loftin held a team meeting, following which several players said they were considering quitting the team. On Dec. 16, without the three suspended players, East Henderson was blown out. Three more players quit thereafter — which is why Loftin felt the need to get every warm JV body he could.

There are still a lot of details not yet available over exactly went down. But it certainly sounds like a case in which some Coach Hardass decided to run a tight ship in which it was his way or the highway — and right now there’s a traffic jam on the highway. Perhaps Davis and the others (all seniors) were going through the motions, and perhaps there is a method to Loftin’s madness that will pay off next season.

On the other hand, part of being a good coach is dealing with the players you have — not running off everyone except the minions who are only show fealty to you. Does Loftin want players, or automatons? Well, at least the JV kids now won’t have fans itching to get them off the floor so the real game can start.

Written by rkcookjr

January 10, 2011 at 11:38 pm

Is it a good idea for coaches to rip parents publicly?

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Carly Curtis resigned this week as head girls’ volleyball coach at Coeur d’Alene (Idaho) High. On her way out the door, she made it abundantly clear to the local newspaper who was responsible for her depature: those goddamn fucking parents. (That’s my paraphrase.)

Some of you might be saying, hallelujah, I’m glad a selfless public servant is telling those parents what-for. But I’m not sure Curtis made the wisest decision. Certainly, if she ever wants to coach again at the high school level, her comments to the Coeur d’Alene Press are going to be thrown back in her face. But I also wonder if — in an age in which the youth sports world is hyperaware of pushy parents — it’s a little easy to blame them for your own troubles.

Curtis had two things happen in recent seasons that tend to cause tension — her team started losing, and her daughter was playing on the team. I don’t know that one had to do with the other (and her daughter has made all-league). But whatever was going on, Curtis defaulted to parents being unreasonable.

From the Coeur d’Alene Press:

“I’m tired of dealing with disgruntled/jealous parents and players that are taking their frustrations out on me and my daughter,” Curtis said. “And I am trying to look for a more peaceful atmosphere for me and my daughter.” …

“I think a lot of people couldn’t handle that I was coaching my daughter,” Curtis said.

The Vikings finished 9-18 this season, after going 2-22 in 2009.

“It was a frustrating season,” Curtis said. “And in the end, I didn’t feel the support was there for me to stay. I didn’t feel there was a lot of support from the administration.”

Curtis said her daughter may transfer, but will wait until the end of the semester to decide what she wants to do.

Oh, I forget to mention that — she ripped the administration publicly, too. The same administration she plans to continue to work for as a physical education and health teacher at Coeur d’Alene High.

It’s always interesting to read the comments that are posted under any story about a youth sports situation, because even though you get some anonymous sniping, it’s the best place to get some of the story behind the story. If the comments are to be believed, there were issues for years with Curtis’ style and temperament, and recent losing brought the complaints more to the fore.

By the way, Curtis is not leaving volleyball. She will continue to coach a club team she co-founded. One wonders whether the issue was the parents, or that Curtis, a serious volleyball coach, would rather have a team with players and parents who are as intense about the sports as she is. And that place is not the school team.

Still, one wonders if a club team parent has a complaint, if Curtis is going to spout off about it elsewhere. Is it a good idea for coaches to rip parents publicly? I always say, the answer is no.

Written by rkcookjr

November 5, 2010 at 10:10 pm

Coaching is hard, becoming a certified coach is harder

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On Tuesday night, Aug. 31, I sat through three-plus hours’ worth of videos on youth coaching, and specifically about coaching soccer, to become — for the first time in my six-year youth sports career — an officially certified coach. In the pic at the left, I am holding my official blessing to be a soccer coach, granted by the National Youth Sports Coaches Association, part of the National Alliance for Youth Sports.

I’m not sure I’m any more qualified to be an assistant soccer for 4- and 5-year-olds than I was before I sat through the training, but I could see how it’s valuable to people who aren’t know-it-all youth sports bloggers like myself. The soccer drills were good to see, but the bulk of the training was a video, with breaks for discussion, about the sort of stuff you would run into in the day-to-day management of a team: how to create a positive environment for your kids, the importance (or lack thereof) of winning, how to deal with those fucking asshole parents. I’m paraphrasing.

The National Association of Youth Sports has its heart in the right place, and it’s done a lot to try to teach coaches that screaming obscenities at 4-year-olds is probably not the best way to motivate.

However, as I watched the video, I started feeling intimidated in my role, much as I did the first time I sat through the first pregnancy class with my wife. In each case, my panic was the same: My god, with so much to know, how does any kid survive?

Heck, at least with the pregnancy class, I had that feeling in large part because I had never been a father. I’ve coached numerous teams in numerous sports, and I knew a lot of this stuff going in, yet the NAYS video had me wondering if anybody is qualified to coach kids, beyond the usual qualification of not being on the sex-offender list. I can only imagine what the first-time coaches must have been thinking.

Here is what I learned from the video:

— I hold the FUTURE OF THE WORLD in my hands. And it’s real easy to fuck it up. Do you really want a kid to appear on Dr. Phil because of you?

— If kids don’t want to play a sport after you’ve coached them, it’s because you were such a hopeless asshole that you drove them away. Because kids never quit a sport because they find out they don’t like it. Never never ever.

— If parents have a problem with what you’re doing, it’s clearly because you didn’t make expectations clear and open the lines of communication. It can’t be, ever, that the parent is a jerk. Never never ever.

— You should monitor your players’ hydration and nutrition intake — before, during and after games. That includes ensuring they’re hydrated during the game with a sports drink, which was the helpful advice of the representative from the Gatorade Sports Science Institute. (Being a founding sponsor of NAYS has its privileges.)

— You should know basic first aid, CPR, and perhaps how to perform a tracheotomy with a Bic pen. You probably have a doctor-parent that can help with this. (Alas, all I’ve had were EMT parents, and I lost those when the local fire department said they had to keep themselves and their ambulances parked at the fire house during their shift.)

— And don’t be scared! We know you’ll make mistakes! That’s OK! Try not to think about the lives you’re ruining!

Maybe I’ve let my own anxieties tear away all the positive things that NAYS is trying to impart, and, again, in theory, I’m with it. But most of us coaching youth sports are parent volunteers trying like hell to fit this in with all our other responsibilities, including sneaking away from work so we can start practice at a reasonable hour.

I can understand why a lot of coaches don’t sit through the NAYS training, as valuable as it can be. You know you have a lot of responsibility, and you take it seriously. But sitting through three-plus hours of helpful advice, sometimes that’s not so helpful.

Written by rkcookjr

September 1, 2010 at 11:07 pm

Dad sues after his kid hit by a pitch — why, yes, the dad IS a lawyer

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I’m not knee-jerk about taking the opposite position when everyone else is decrying something as another brick in the wall that is the pussification of youth sports. And it’s pretty easy to jump on a lawyer who sues over his son getting hit by a pitch, especially because he wasn’t there to see what happened.

On the other hand, if there is no other mechanism to punish coaches who intentionally call on their players to hurt the opponent in the name of competition, in flagrant violation of the United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of the Child, then a lawsuit there must be. In the major leagues, players and managers get kicked out games and fined for throwing at players, so why should there be no repercussions in youth baseball?

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So often, a violent act such as intentionally throwing at a batter begets more violence.

The situation: Michael Connick, 13, was trying to bunt with the bases loaded in a 13-and-under game in the travel Great Lakes Baseball League, which covers Northeast Ohio. What’s not in dispute is that the first pitch to Michael was way high and inside, and on the second, he was hit by the pitch, breaking his left hand. What is in dispute is whether the opposing coach ordered the pitcher to hit him intentionally.

From the News-Herald in Willoughby, Ohio:

Tom Connick, who also is an attorney [note to lawyer haters — not just an attorney, but a trial lawyer], filed a lawsuit this week in Lake County Common Pleas Court claiming Scott Barber, an assistant coach for the Titans, committed assault and battery against his son during the game at Haven’s Baseball Complex in Jefferson Township.

According to the suit, Barber ordered his pitcher on the mound to “throw at” Connick’s son, which resulted in the boy “severely” breaking his left hand.

“Immediately after (Michael) fell to the ground, and while writhing in pain, defendant Barber again yelled from the dugout, ‘Good!,’ thus confirming and ratifying his order to ‘throw at’ and intentionally and recklessly … hit the plaintiff,” Tom Connick stated in the suit.

Connick claims that even after Michael left the field for the hospital, Barber encouraged other reckless and/or negligent physical play, including instructions to run over players on the opposing team.

How did Connick know this, given neither he nor his wife were at the game? I’m not sure. The story doesn’t explain. I presume the other parents on his team angrily and breathlessly told him what they saw happen on that fateful June 24. And then Connick responded by suing the coach and the league, which he said failed to discipline Barber, even though state youth baseball rules say intentionally throwing at a batter is illegal.

Connick and his wife, Corrina, are seeking more than $25,000 in damages, lost wages and attorney’s fees [Note: I presume lost wages are for Connick missing work, not because Michael already has a job. Or maybe he’s mowing lawns for pay already].

In addition, they want Judge Richard L. Collins Jr. to ban Barber from coaching or participating in any youth sports for at least 15 years.

Michael’s father … stressed that his family is not suing for the money.

“Anything he gets will go toward his medical bills, then a college fund through probate court,” Connick said. “I’m a lawyer, but I’m also Michael’s father. I don’t want people thinking I’m some scumbag attorney.”

Too late! From “The Slapper,” run just as it was typed, in the Herald’s comment section:

There are risks in every sport, and if the parents don’t like it, then too bad. It’s people like this attorney that give try to live through their children. People like this ruin it for everyone. Everything is a law suit. Quite being a cry baby and deal with the fact that your poor little baby got hit by a ball. If he doesn’t know how to get out of the way, then maybe he shouldn’t be trying to bunt. I feel bad for the kid, but there are a lot of hurdles throughout life that everyone has to deal with. Keep parents like this off the baseball fields. They’d be safer in the library. I would hate to see this kid play football, and the coach say sack him. This attorney would be suing for that!!! “

Although to be fair, plenty of commenters showed support for the lawyer, given all of the out-of-control behavior from coaches they said they’ve witnessed. Also to be fair, Barber — varsity baseball and golf coach, as well as seventh-grade boys baseball coach, at Jefferson Area Junior-Senior High in Ashtabula County, Ohio — has not responded to the allegations, and the league backs up him as a good and decent coach.

One question I’ve seen from some commenters is, why didn’t the umpire say anything after the first pitch? First, the umpires for these events are low-paid drudge workers, so they’re not necessarily training their ears to know if something scurrilous is going on. Second, with it being 13-and-under baseball, no umpire would believe a pitcher has enough control to throw at a batter, accurately, especially twice in a row.

Third, these low-paid drudge workers want to get home without fighting with anyone, so they may take the path of least resistance — which means not throwing out a coach who obviously is doing wrong. The other day my daughter’s 10-and-under travel softball team was called out for not touching the plate, not because the ump saw she didn’t touch the plate, but because my daughter’s team was up 10-0, the other coach was screaming (as he had all game), and as the ump told my daughter’s coach, “I just wanted to shut him up.” (The lost run turned out not to be an issue, but my daughter’s coach was a bit perturbed that he essentially was penalized for being a nice guy. To digress, this call had the effect of teaching the girls to make sure they hit the plate. My daughter touched it twice the other day when she scored, just to be careful.)

I have no sympathy for any coach who tells anyone to hurt someone intentionally. It’s one thing to hurt players if everyone is playing hard — say, a collision at the plate between the catcher legitimately trying to block it and the runner legitimately trying to score. But if this coach really was demanding his pitcher throw at another player, and the league and his club fail to take any action, then I don’t blame Tom Connick for doing what he knows, and suing the bastards into compliance.

Even those who don’t care much for trial attorneys might agree that a few lawsuits might dial down the number of grown-up coaches who seem to get their competitive jollies over telling one kid to hurt another.

Written by rkcookjr

July 18, 2010 at 4:25 pm

Arrested coach pictured poorly in court, on Facebook

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Unfortunately this happens a lot — a young-ish assistant high school coach getting popped on charges related to fooling around (or trying to fool around) with the kids he coaches. However, these stories aren’t usually accompanied by the unflatteringly douchebaggish photo of the alleged perpetrator.

This story should teach any young coach that if you’re going to be stupid, depraved and unprofessional enough to go all Wooderson on high school girls, you should at least make sure your social network pictures don’t make you look like the kind of guy who might be that stupid, depraved and unprofessional.

From the Deseret News in Salt Lake City:

A well-known substitute teacher and sports coach in Moab has been arrested and charged with raping two teenage girls.

Trace Wells, 24, was charged [July 13] in 7th District Court with multiple counts of rape, possession of child pornography, forcible sex abuse and enticing a minor. …

Wells was a former football star at Grand County High School and worked as a substitute teacher at the high school and the local middle school. He also helped coach the high school track team, of which one of his victims was a member, said Grand County Sheriff’s Sgt. Kim Neal.

Wells and his family are fairly prominent in the community, according to officials. His father is the coach of the high school’s football and wrestling teams. His grandmother is a member of the Grand County Council, Neal said. …

The victims were 15 and 16 years old and both girls whom Wells had known for awhile, Neal said. The child porn charges stem from alleged “sexting” (texting of sexual pictures) of at least one of the victims, he said.

And here is the profile picture on Trace Wells’ Facebook and MySpace pages, a shot the Deseret News picked up and used on its site:

I will emphasize that Trace Wells, like anyone arrested, is innocent until proven guilty. But, sheesh, this isn’t helping.

The fine line between coaching and tyranny

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David St. Hubbins knows of fine lines.

As a coach — or anyone who manages people of any age, for that matter — one of the trickiest parts of the job is knowing when to push, and knowing when to step off the gas. Making that trick even more complicated is that you want your players, even if they detest you at the time for pushing them, to look back someday (the next day, the next week, when they’re sitting with their grandkids) and realize that you did the right thing. As a youth coach, you hope the parents feel the same way — especially because the definition of “pushing too hard” is very, very flexible in their collective eyes.

In one of my favorite books, Terry Pluto’s “Loose Balls,” a history of the American Basketball Association, a general manager explains this philosophy as he relates ex-NBA all-star Cliff Hagan’s mindset when he became an ABA coach: “I had eight coaches in the pros. I liked six of them and hated the other two. The only ones we won with were the guys I hated.”

Of course, executing this philosophy was a little simpler for Hagan than it is for your everyday youth coach today. For one thing, Hagan was managing pros, so he didn’t have to worry about parents, equal playing time, or the after-game snack. Also, this was the 1960s, when coaches from pee-wee level up were practically expected to yell, or else it didn’t sound like coaching. (Part of what made the late John Wooden so radical was that he didn’t raise his voice.) As a youth coach, you always have to strike a tricky balance between teaching and pushing your kids to excel, and not pushing otherwise engaged kids right out of the sport — or pushing parents to yell at you.

Recently an article appeared that had me thinking of the high-wire act that is coaching my 7-year-old son’s baseball team. On the Chicago Tribune website, the story was titled: “Teacher or Tyrant? What do you do when your kid’s hard-driving coach — or ballet teacher — steps over the line into full-fledged cruelty?”

When former U.S. Olympic gymnast Dominique Moceanu said her coach Martha Karolyi once slammed her face into a phone and that Martha’s husband, Bela, twice berated her for her weight in front of teammates, the sports world was shocked.

Kind of.

Other gymnasts downplayed the complaints of Moceanu, who was only 14 when she competed on the 1996 gold-medal team, and praised the Karolyis’ results. …

And therein lies the dilemma for parents of children who are seriously involved in sports and the arts. Many of the best coaches and instructors are disciplinarians who push kids hard and get results; a few are tyrants who push their players too hard or berate them cruelly.

How are parents of hard-driving kids supposed to tell the difference? And even if you know you have a tyrant on your hands, how much can you really do to contain the behavior of an adult with the power to bench your sports-loving son or derail your daughter’s college scholarship?

First, to answer that question before I get to how this applies to those of us who coach or have kids in far less elite situations. If you and your child (or just you, pushing your child) are investing heavily in a career as an elite anything, at some point your child is going to get pushed — hard. With so many parents and children competing for the same spots, coaches know that if you don’t like it, there are 1,000 others waiting in line to take whatever guff they’ll give. Don’t count on other parents, even if they are appalled by the coach’s behavior, to join you in some sort of boycott or fight.

In most cases, your option, cruel as it sounds, is like it or lump it. If the cost of being an elite athlete or performer is you and/or your child’s sanity, maybe that Olympic gold is worth too much.

Now, for the rest of us: where is that fine line between coaching and tyranny? In the eye of the beholder, that’s where.

In the 1960s, as a coach I could be Cliff Hagan, yelling at kids, and no one would have thought anything of it, in part because parents didn’t go to every practice and game like they do now, so they would have never seen it. When my father pulled my brother and I off a Little League baseball team in 1980 because he thought the coach was such a raging asshole, even for that time that was an unusual move. (It paid off — the next year my brother and I were on a different team with more mellow coach, and we won our league championship, while raging asshole’s team was at the bottom of the league.)

People write stories about whether coaches yell more than they used to, but the truth is that coaches on the whole probably do so less than they did even back in my day, when I was walking with no shoes in a snowstorm to school, which was five miles away, uphill both ways. Parents at the time hoped that sports would be a positive experience, but they didn’t demand it be a positive experience as they do now. Not that the demand is a bad thing. But what it’s done is, for some parents, move the fine line between coaching and tyranny to a place where a coach might not able to say anything without getting grief.

Twice this season in coach my son’s 7-year-old baseball team, I’ve had parents upset with me because they’ve felt I’ve pushed their kids — and the whole team — too hard. No doubt, I do push. I expect the kids to pay attention, to be good teammates, to not climb the backstop fence, to not hit each other, to do what their coaches ask. As I explained to one parent, I’m not asking anything that their teachers don’t ask them to do in school. I know I have a loud voice, and I know that sometimes I test the limits of how far to push a 7-year-old. It’s a no-score league, so I’m not pushing them to win. I’m pushing them to become better baseball players and teammates. (Note: It’s my blog, so I can make myself sound like the hero.)

That parents would quibble with my style is to be expected. It happens to every coach. What has shocked me, however, is something I’ve never heard, ever, until now. Both sets of complaining parents, when I said that I expect the kids to listen (say, when I’m giving instruction, or when I’m telling them not to swing a bat in the dugout), responded, each with almost these exact words: “They’re just kids. If they don’t want to listen, you shouldn’t make them.”

Is that where the fine line between coaching and tyranny is? That if I expect kids to do anything other than exactly what they want at the time they want it, I’m a raging asshole?

The second incident with a parent came after I told their kid he wasn’t going to bat because he refused my request for him to pinch-run for a teammate. His teammate, the first batter up, got hit on the hand with a pretty fast pitch, and was very sore and upset. I asked this particular kid to pinch-run because he was last in the batting order. He said, no, he wouldn’t. I asked him again. He said no. I asked him again. He said no. I said he wouldn’t have his turn at bat if he didn’t get on first base. He said no. So I sent another kid out (who dutifully and smartly put on a helmet and ran to first base), and told the refusenik he wasn’t going to get his turn at bat.

That might seem harsh, but I try to teach these kids that there are consequences for your actions. I wasn’t asking the kid to clean the dugout with his tongue. I was asking him to do what 7-year-olds normally love to do — run the bases. (Again, it’s my blog, so I can be the hero.)

The reason this fine line between coaching and tyranny can be so tricky at a youth level is because, particularly with younger kids, you’re colliding with parenting styles. Maybe, at home, there are parents who let their kids do what they want, when they want, and there’s never a consequence for doing anything wrong. I don’t know. But I do know that when you’re coaching, one parent can praise you as a good coach and teacher, while the next thinks you’re a raging asshole.

And if you’re a youth coach, that’s how things are going to be. Like it or lump it.

Peyton Manning and the lesson of relying too much on one player

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The day after the New Orleans Saints beat my hometown Indianapolis Colts in the Super Bowl, I saw this Facebook status update, written by a Cleveland Cavaliers fan, in my whatever-you-call-the-live-feed these days:

After this Peyton Manning thing, I’m expecting to see LeBron James’ lifeless body dangling from a net during the NBA finals.

Why the parallel between Manning and James? Because both players shoulder pretty much 100 percent of the burden of their team’s success. If Manning or James aren’t perfect, their teams’ chances of winning in the postseason are almost nil. They play on teams that sometimes have pretty good players around them — Manning historically moreso than James — yet when times get difficult, you can sense their teammates and coaches staring at them and screaming, silently: “Save us!”

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The Super Bowl was not Peyton Manning’s first crushing loss against an underdog from Louisiana.

Even for players as historically great as Manning and James, that’s more of a burden than they can bear. Manning did win one Super Bowl (the year the defense showed up for the playoffs), but otherwise each player has had one championship game/series loss, and a litany of early flameouts.

So, if that’s the case, why do so many adult coaches putting that burden on young kids?

No doubt, kids figure out early who the best player on the team is, and they will cede to that player in a hurry. It’s a natural reaction. However, what’s not natural is coaches falling into that same trap by riding that top player, whether by keeping him or her in a game too long (either no time to rest or, say, too long on the mound), or drawing up plays simply for that one talented player, or literally telling everyone to get out of that player’s way.

Some kids can handle that pressure. But most can’t. As a youth coach, I stress everyone getting involved in a game, and stress to the designated best player that the best thing he or she can do is find ways to get other players involved. Pass the ball, even if you think they’ll drop it. Give a kind word after a missed free throw or a strikeout. Do something with your exalted position to let your teammates know you’re counting on them, too.

That is its own burden, and I’ve coached kids who have determined that, fuck it, everyone else here sucks, and I have to win this by myself. Again, a natural reaction for a kid, and there’s only so much you can do as a coach to stop it. But at least you have to try. Being the best player is its own burden. No sense making that burden heavier by sending the message that without you, we’re nothing.

Volleyball-chucking coach Eric Maxwell doesn't get why he's so, so wrong

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This here blog on Jan. 6 posted the video of Southern Regional High School (Manahawkin, N.J.) always-intense volleyball coach Eric Maxwell going nuts during a game after a player committed the sin of not hitting the ball before it reached the floor, going nuts in the form of whipping a volleyball fastball on her head. Alas, in a tribute to the lack of pull this here blog has (for now), it took Deadspin.com posting the video Feb. 1 before Maxwell and his school bothered to respond to questions like, why is this guy still coaching?

Maxwell defended his action (which occurred in October 2009) to the Press of Atlantic City (one of the best newspapers of its size in covering youth sports issues, in my opinion), as did a few other school officials, who I think were afraid they would get brained with a volleyball if they didn’t tell the world what a great guy Maxwell is.

Maxwell claimed he wasn’t trying to hit a player, and that everything with his team was hunky-dory a few hours after the incident, which got him booted out of the game. Maxwell said he apologized to the player, and wrote a letter of apology to his team members and their parents. A signal that Mr. Intensity (“he patrols up and down the sidelines …. with the fury of a drill sergeant, sayeth the Star-Ledger of Newark) wasn’t looking at this as a lesson to dial things down came when he said he didn’t apologize to anyone else because he “wasn’t going to put out little fires.”

“You see a short clip like that, but no one knows what preceded it. I’m not condoning my behavior in getting upset and yelling at a referee, but my intent was to throw it off the wall. It certainly looks like I threw it at her,” he said.

Hey, sarge, it doesn’t matter whether you were TRYING to throw it at her. You shouldn’t have been chucking the ball in the first place. How do you expect your team to be calm and controlled when you have zero mastery over your own temper? Unless you were firing a ball at a person who had entered the gym carrying an assault rifle, I can’t think of “what preceded” your action that made it excusable.

Then again, sarge, you do have employers who make excuses for you.

Southern Regional School District Superintendant Craig Henry said Monday afternoon that the incident was an anomaly and completely out of character for Maxwell.

Apparently Henry never reads the Star-Ledger.

“This coach is a faith-based individual and he is moved to emotion every time it comes up. He’s a class act in everything he does,” Henry said.

A faith-based individual? What does that have to do with anything? Richard Reid, Baruch Goldstein and Eric Rudolph were faith-based individuals moved to emotion, too, and no one wants them coaching their volleyball team. The point is not that Maxwell is a religious nut bent to kill, but that it’s maddening how people are ready to explain away any action because, hey, the guy’s got the Jesus! By the way, I would love to hear the superintendent’s explanation of how Maxwell was a class act in whizzing that volleyball across the floor.

Hey, teachers at Southern Regional High, you now have permission to chuck objects at your students, as long as you’re a faith-based individual and you say you were aiming for the wall! (Well, Maxwell is on one-year probation, according to the superintendent, so there might be a teensy-weensy consequence, at least if your tantrum gets on YouTube.)

At least athletic director Kim DeGraw-Cole said throwing the ball, no matter what Maxwell tried to hit, was wrong.

“The fact that the ball hit one of his players that he cares about and coaches is embarrassing. He took the proper steps before we took action,” DeGraw-Cole said. “It wouldn’t matter if he threw the ball at the wall, it wouldn’t be appropriate. No one felt worse than he did.”

I don’t know, Ms. DeGraw-Cole. I bet that girl who got a ball off the head felt pretty damn bad.

In which I throw my 10-year-old daughter to the youth sports-industrial complex

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As I believe I’ve mentioned multiple times, my 10-year-old daughter is a three-time All-Star (as in, every year she’s played) in softball, though so far she has eschewed (to my delight) travel ball. The intensity of the parents and the cliquishness of the girls scared me, as well as the $900 price tag (not including actual travel). Plus, I’m not sure I can be involved, particularly as a coach, because I don’t have a goatee.

Despite my hesitance about getting too deep into the youth sports-industrial complex (go figure, with what I named this site), I couldn’t help but get excited when I found out one of the local travel softball teams was sponsoring two clinics at Dwyane Wade High, my local school. And, those clinics featured college coaches. Plus it was only $30 for two Sundays, and I didn’t have to grow a goatee for my daughter to join.

Anybody remotely sentient understands that clinics and camps serve a purpose higher (or lower) than teaching your child. Here is what all the participants involved in my daughter’s camp get out of it:

Oak Lawn Ice, the sponsoring organization. It spreads its names to the girls and their families, so when it comes to time to shell out the travel team bucks, they will think of the Ice first. Also, the Ice makes more contacts with the high school coach and, more importantly, the college coaches that are coming by and might want to recruit some Ice players, thus getting more families willing to shell out for the team.

— Julie Folliard, the Dwyane Wade High softball coach. Though it’s a public school, it has to recruit against at least three nearby all-girls’ Catholic high schools and one coed Catholic high school, all of which are sizable and have their own strong athletic traditions. By hosting the clinic on the T-Mobile D-Wade Court, she makes contact with a slew of potential high school players, strengthens her contacts with a local club team, and strengthens her contacts with college coaches who might someday want her players, thus giving Folliard a feather in her visor when she’s coming back to young kids to get them to her school, thus building a tradition so smart-asses like me say she coaches at Richards High, not Dwyane Wade High. Also, I’ve heard her complain (in a coaches’ clinic I attended when I coached my daughter’s team) about the lack of fundamentals of a lot of players, so Folliard gets some hope that maybe a few players coming up will know what they’re doing.

— The college coaches. Specifically, Illinois-Chicago assistant Amanda Scott, DePaul assistant Liz Jagielski, and Northwestern head coach Kate Drohan, the attending coaches. They get a very early line on talent, and they get to give that talent a very early line on them. They strengthen their contacts with a high school coach. They strengthen their contacts with a travel organization. They get to plant the seeds of knowledge early, before they have to get players to unlearn what they did wrong at earlier levels.

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Amanda Scott’s pitching drills were pretty much what you see in this clip. Except that my daughter tells me she also taught them how to throw a changeup.

— The girls themselves. They get to showcase themselves to a prominent local travel organization, and put themselves on the radar of at least one high school coach, and if they show inordinate talent, some college coaches.

However, for my daughter, I figure the advantages are more prosaic. By getting cheap access to quality high school and college coaches, she can learn more in two Sundays than she’s learned in three years under volunteer moms and dads. No offense to them, especially because for two years that limited-knowledge parent was me.

Whatever the undercurrent of semi-professionalism running throughout the camp, as long as my daughter can learn how to control her pitches, field consistently, and figure out the new lefthanded-batting stance she today decided to adopt while at the clinic, I don’t care what everybody else in the youth sports food chain gets out of it.

Mike Leach gets fired, or how not to handle injured prima donnas

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Texas Tech fired Mike Leach as its football coach on Dec. 30, ostensibly because he sent wide receiver Adam James to solitary confinement in a shed and electrical closet (says James’ father Craig, a former NFL running back and current ESPN college football analyst) or in a garage and a media room (says Leach and his attorney) after James was diagnosed with a mild concussion.

Of course, as clear by the argument over what to call where James was stashed, the situation is more complicated than that, with Leach accusing James of being a prima donna and malingerer, and his father of being overbearing like a “Little League parent,” players coming out pro and con on how Leach treated them, and the specter of Leach’s past, very contentious contract negotiations providing some insight as to why the Texas Tech athletic department thought him more pain in the ass than their previous feeling, savior of a generally hidebound program. (He’s the second Big 12 coach to make that fall in a month, following Kansas’ Mark Mangino, fired after players and parents alleged various mental and physical abuse.)

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Mike Leach shouldn’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.

As a youth coach, I look at a situation like Leach’s and wonder, is there something I and other coaches can learn from this? Why, yes indeedy there is. While I am never going be fired before I get an $800,000 bonus (because I never will be getting an $800,000 bonus), I can see some lessons here on the relationship between a coach and a player who, for the sake of argument, was a prima donna and malingerer with an overbearing, Little League parent. There are three main lessons I see coming out of this, for youth coaches on any level — even (or especially) the college level:

1. You can’t magically turn a prima donna into a model citizen.

The speculation in the Leach case is that if James wasn’t being punished for being hurt, this was a chance for Leach to punish him for being an asshole. After all, what doctor recommends a concussion patient be sent to solitary confinement in a shed, garage, electrical closet, media room or Windsor Castle? Leach and other Texas Tech coaches portray James as being a prima donna, and apparently tried to hard-ass the prima donna right out of him.

My experience — at the kindergarten- to eighth-grade level — is that if a kid has a lousy attitude, you can’t yell it out of them. You can’t run it out of them. You can’t lock them in a closet out of them. One of the traits of a prima donna is a disrespect and distrust for authority, and you getting all Sgt. Hartman on them is not going to change that. Particularly at the youth level. You only have players for a short amount of time, and it’s not like you can threaten to take away their scholarship.

I’ve found the first step to dealing with a prima donna is to accept that the player is a prima donna. That way, you don’t overreact to everything and end up creating friction on the team. For example, on a basketball team I coached, I kicked one particular pain-in-the-ass to the sideline. Not only did that have no effect on him, but it also had his teammates wondering why they had to keep working when they were following the rules. I tried running the kid — same problem. It didn’t work on him, and his teammates were distracted because one of their own wasn’t doing drills with them.

The best I can do now is try to impress upon him the importance of being part of the team, and point out (which is true) that we win when his attitude is good, and we lose when it’s bad. I do this because I know his mood swings are subject to whether he thinks his team is good enough to be around him, and whether we’re winning or losing. You might find other ways to motivate a prima donna. But I don’t expect miracles, and neither should you. Your best hope is that, eventually, the prima donna gets to trust you and see it your way. Whatever I do with prima donnas, I tell them, whether they believe or not, that I like and respect them. Then I hope for the best.

I am a coach, not a magician, no matter how much I might like to think I have an incredible life force that turns children into the greatest human beings of all-time.

2. You’re a coach, not a doctor.

In Leach’s case, he had a team doctor to advise him on what to do, although team doctors are notorious for bending to the wishes of coaches to get players back on the field right away rather than their long-term health. Generally, unless you are a doctor also serving as a youth coach, it’s not up to you to judge whether someone is capable of playing. If they say they’re hurt, you have to lean toward taking them at their word.

That doesn’t mean you can’t teach them how to push through small amounts of pain. When my coed fifth- and sixth-grade basketball team had only five players show last week, I told them there wasn’t going to be any rest, so they would have to save being tired until game’s end. I also once had a kid tell me he couldn’t do a passing drill because his arm hurt. I said, OK, take a rest. When he went back out onto the court to shoot three-pointers, I told him he lost the argument about his arm. I’m no doctor, but if your arm hurts, you’re not shooting long bombs.

On the other hand, I have two asthmatics on my team. Even if they were among the five that had showed up on the day we only had five (and neither did), I would have never told them to work through the pain of being tired and losing your breath. I tell those kids to raise their hands immediately when they need a rest. I tell the referees to please stop the game when they do so. I also tell their parents to feel free to run onto the court if something looks wrong. They know better than I do.

3. You have to deal with parents.

It is every coach’s dream to have parents who drop their kids off at practice and games, and never make a peep. Every coach lives in fear of the overbearing parents who questions everything they do. Well, every coach has to get over that. You’re the coach, but you’re being trusted with somebody’s child. You will have many children under your watch for a short time. The parent has only that one child, or a few more, under their watch forever. Any parent who feels like a coach is risking their child’s well-being should speak up. That’s a good parent.

The problem with most parent-coach confrontations is that they’re confrontations. The parent comes flying in upset about something, and the coach gets defensive and tells them to pound sand. As a coach, you have to have this attitude: on first blush, the parents has every right to be unreasonable. It is your job as a coach to explain why you do what you do, and why you feel like that is in the child’s best interests. I’ve had a parent pull his kids off a team I’ve coached because he didn’t like what we were doing (he thought we weren’t intense enough). My reaction: I’m sorry to hear that, but they are your children, and you know best.

I’m not sure Mike Leach could make any reasonable explanation for locking a player in solitary confinement for any reason. But as a coach, you have to accept that parents have the right to ask you anything. You have the job of giving an even-keeled response. That might not help. The parent might not always be right. You might have to get others in your league involved. It’s a pain in the ass. But when you’re dealing with children, you’re also dealing with parents, so you had best accept it.