Your Kid’s Not Going Pro

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Posts Tagged ‘Little League baseball

Too competitive to coach?

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There are certain personalities that aren’t made for youth sports coaching, though that doesn’t stop them from coaching anyway. Jennifer Gish, a parenting columnist for the Times-Union in Albany, N.Y., thinks she is one of those personalities.

She wrote a series of columns about a baseball team of 7- to 9-year-olds the Times-Union co-sponsored, and by her own description she played an over-the-top competitive team owner. But then as the team’s season drew to a close, Gish — a mother of toddler twins yet to reach the age of getting yelled at by other people’s parents for their sports abilities — came to an unnerving conclusion. Maybe her columnist persona wasn’t an act. From her Times-Union blog:

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An early rough of “The Jennifer Gish Story.”

So, I’ve already barred myself from coaching Andrew and Matilda in any future athletic pursuits. And maybe dance class. And maybe I won’t help them get ready for the school spelling bee, either.

Looking over at the t-ball fields one day, I thought maybe I’d be OK at that level, but I’m not so sure. I have issues, people.

I’ve always been competitive, and I’ve learned that it’s very difficult to turn that off, even when it comes to kids. I had a tension headache all day the day of my Little League team’s playoff game, and felt queasy through every inning. Meanwhile, the kids, who are 7- to 9-years-old after all, kept busy debating whose dad was oldest.

I don’t think I’m at the level of keying some umpire’s car over a bad call. And I probably wouldn’t be the parent who gets tossed out of a game, but I don’t like what was going on in my head. And I’d hate to project that to the kids.

So this mom’s benched. For life.

I’d like to first congratulate Jennifer Gish on her self-awareness. Better to discover this flaw now, then when she’s actually coaching a team and becomes single-handedly responsible for her kids’ future therapy sessions, as well as the future therapy sessions of every other kid on the team, as well as the future therapy sessions of every parent, opposing coach, league official and umpire who ever crosses her path.

However, she has passed the first step on the 12-step program to becoming a good youth coach. (Sometimes the admitting you have a problem is not about competitiveness — it may be about a lack of competitiveness, a lack of knowledge of the sport in question, or a lack of motivation to coach for any reason beyond grooming kids for their future molestation by you.)

I left a comment on Gish’s blog, which as of this writing is not up because it is in the dreaded limbo of “awaiting moderation.” But I make these points:

1. If you’re that bad, maybe you shouldn’t even go to your kids’ games.

2. However, this competitiveness is common. As a coach, I feel like parents of younger kids (except, perhaps, those who have older kids and have been through this before) run in only two directions: over-the-top competitive, or over-the-top believing that fun at sports means no coaching, no scores, no nothing.

3. That there is time to modulate whatever extreme you have as a parent of young children. I recommended to Gish that she go to kids’ games in which she has no rooting interest. Once she sees all the parents and coaches acting like loons, that should take the edge off her competitiveness a bit.

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Written by rkcookjr

June 27, 2010 at 11:15 pm

Should youth athletes have any loyalty?

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A sports columnist complains about the ruination of athletics because of rampant free agency destroying loyalty to team. Heard that a million times before, right?

Now, a sports columnist complains about the ruination of youth athletics because of rampant free agency destroying loyalty to team. Hmmmmm, that’s a little more interesting.

From Bill Wells of the Springfield (Mass.) Republican:

In just about every sport, at just about every age, kids are free agents. Growing up and playing for a town, church or neighborhood organization is nearly a thing of the past. Can you imagine such a scenario a generation ago?

I loved playing for my town when I was a kid. I looked forward to it and took pride in it. I wasn’t representing myself – I was representing my town and my team.

Nowadays, if parents don’t want their kid to play for their town, church or neighborhood organization, for whatever reason, they can go someplace else. …

I guess this column comes down to this one question: if free agency creates a “me first” culture at the professional level, and if that’s bad, doesn’t the same rule apply at the youth level?

Yes, Bill Wells, it does.

But as you point out in your own column, every parent would argue his or her first loyalty is to his or her own child. And if that creates “free agents,” so be it.

You might think of the parents and children engaged in “free agency” as the sort trying to game the system to make sure their child has a path toward a college scholarship and a professional career. But it’s also the parent who yanks his or her child off a team for so many other reasons.

For example, in 1980, when I was 10 years old and my brother was nine, my father yanked us off our Little League baseball team because the coach was, to put it mildly, a raving asshole. My dad didn’t like his overemphasis on winning, his outright hatred of having girls on the team (this was only six years after Little League lifted its ban on girls), and his overall demeanor. And, by the way, this was back in the good ol’ days, the pre-free agency era Bill Wells was talking about. The next year, my brother and I tried out for a different team in the same league, and it was a great experience for all concerned. My mother, who knew nothing about baseball, even became our official scorer.

If I’m coaching, and a parent wants to pull a kid off my team, I say this: “I’m sorry to hear that you’re doing this. But I respect your decision, and I wish you good luck.”

It’s what I said to a father a few years ago when I managed my then 8-year-old daughter’s fall softball league team. He had twin girls that were a few years’ older, and who he thought didn’t practice and play enough. I said this was a fall league for younger girls that was designed as a more casual experience than spring ball, and that his girls would benefit even from the relatively short practice and game schedule. But I said it was his decision. He’s the one paying the freight, not me.

At its greediest heart the youth sports/parent relationship is a financial one, with a parent shelling out money, and the youth sports organization providing the service. Like in any customer relationship, if the person shelling out the money doesn’t like the service, he or she is going to take business elsewhere. I would do that, and I’m sure most parents would. They would be fools if they didn’t.

Written by rkcookjr

April 19, 2010 at 2:01 am

No gun sponsorship allowed for N.J. youth baseball team

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Apparently the only arms the South Orange-Maplewood Baseball League wants referenced on its fields are those attached to the players. From My Fox New York:

TheInstructorA Maplewood, New Jersey man is upset that a Little League baseball league has rejected his business as a team sponsor.

Matthew Carmel’s (right) son played in the South Orange-Maplewood Baseball League last year and he wanted to sponsor a team in the coming season. A sponsorship costs $300.

The league committee rejected his offer.  Carmel thinks that it is because his business happens to be a gun store called Constitution Arms. [The league did not give an official reason for denying his sponsorship.]

Carmel says, “It is fairly clear that someone has a problem with firearms.”

Mao was wrong. Youth sports sponsorship power does not come from the barrel of a gun.

Written by rkcookjr

March 5, 2010 at 10:58 am

Little League begs you not to leave

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On Jan. 11, Little League International announced it would set up what it calls a 50-70 division, where 12- and 13-year-olds could play on their usual home teams with the standard league rules, but then also play up in a division with rules and field dimensions that more advanced. Such as (from a Little League press release):

Now, in an effort to further ease the transition from the standard Little League field size (46-foot pitching distance and 60-foot base paths), Little League is offering a pilot program for league age 12- and 13-year-olds. The pilot program will be conducted on fields that feature a 50-foot pitching distance and 70-foot base paths. The pilot program will be available to all Little League programs worldwide for the 2010 season.

Additionally, base runners will be permitted to lead off in the 50-70 Pilot Program (requiring pitchers to hold runners on base), runners may attempt stealing at any time, and head-first sliding is permitted. In the Little League division, runners cannot leave the base until the ball reaches the batter, and sliding must be feet-first unless the runner is retreating to a base.

Also for the 50-70 Pilot Program – unlike the Little League division – the batter becomes a runner on a dropped third strike, the bat can have a diameter of 2 5/8 inches, and the on-deck batter is permitted.

Why is Little League doing this? Let David Earnhardt, a board member for East Rowan (N.C.) Diamond Sports fill us in, as he explains why his organization dumped Little League affiliation in favor of Babe Ruth. By the way, Babe Ruth, with the weight of Cal Ripken Jr.’s name (since 1999) in the ages four-twelve divisions, has jumped to more than 1 million members while Little League is threatening to drop below 2 million. Earnhardt was quoted in the Salisbury (N.C.) Post on the same day Little League announced its 50-70 program.

Earnhardt isn’t down on Little League and said there was no single catalyst for switching. It’s mostly about numbers.

“We’ve been losing softball players to the travel teams and we want to try to get them back,” he said. “We’ve also been losing numbers as far as our older baseball players.”

Ah, the lure of travel leagues. One of the major complaints about Little League baseball is that its rules are too baby-ish for anyone who (or whose parents) aspire to play at higher levels. When Little League started in the 1930s, travel leagues hadn’t been invented. Well, they really weren’t around when Babe Ruth baseball was founded in 1951. But the Babe Ruth league has adapted to the age of travel ball, as has PONY Baseball, which is my local youth baseball affiliation. Little League has not. The Salisbury Post spells out the differences between Little League and Babe Ruth:

In Little League, only the 12-year-old baseball teams compete for a shot at the World Series. No other division plays past a state championship.

In Babe Ruth League, there’s plenty of room to dream. There’s a World Series at the end of the rainbow for every level of softball and baseball.

… In the past, East has been required to get waivers from the Little League organization to play teams without Little League charters. Now they can basically play who they want, when they want.

… Pitchers can throw a maximum of six innings in a week in Babe Ruth. A coach can track that without a team of accountants.

In Little League, limits are based on pitch counts. That’s a little more complicated.

Cal Ripken Division provides the option of playing “50/70” baseball.

Ah, 50-70 baseball. Babe Ruth’s Cal Ripken division has given 12- and 13-year-olds that transition field since 2007. It’s a great idea, really. The kids get a chance to work on a slightly bigger field, thus making the transition from the little kid field to major-league dimensions that much less jarring. It keeps kids who would otherwise flee exclusively to travel ball to play under big-kid rules, but it also can keep kids who might otherwise get discouraged with the transition to higher-level dimensions. If you’re a 12-year-old flamethrower who flames out because there is 14 more feet to home plate, at least pitching from 50 feet will give you an idea of how to do it before you get frustrated at the next level.

So for Little League, adopting a 50-70 transition is about player preservation, and on top of that, self-preservation. However, that doesn’t address one more reason locales like East Rowan are dumping Little League for other affiliations, such as Babe Ruth, which declares itself coming “from humble beginnings to the cutting edge of the youth sports arena.” From the Salisbury Post:

There also are organizational differences as far as certifying coaches and umpires, fundraising and the use of bat boys, but the bottom line is East believes the Babe Ruth/Ripken way offers more flexibility and will allow them to focus on meeting local needs rather than adhering to rigid national rules.

Written by rkcookjr

January 18, 2010 at 3:11 am

The Little League World Series is depressingly popular television

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592822179_cc2a0e7545In his Twitter feed, ESPN vice president of media relations Mike Soltys linked to a story about Little League World Series television ratings on his family of networks by noting: “Little League viewing is way up this year. Only the most cynical see something wrong with that.”

Well, just call me the Most Cynical Man in the World.

There’s something that makes me queasy that programming featuring pubescent boys (and two girls) running around a field in an adult presentation is growing in popularity at the same time the network formerly known as The Learning Channel is giddy with excitement over another season of Toddlers & Tiaras, which features post-toddler girls running around a stage in an adult presentation.

From the Biz of Baseball, a site that I presume just regurgitated a release put together by Soltys and his minions. Bolded text is from the site:

ESPN’s opening weekend coverage of the Little League World Series averaged 1,056,000 viewers for eight telecasts, a 60 percent increase over last year’s opening weekend average of 660,000 viewers for six telecasts.  The corresponding household impressions are up 52 percent (837,000 in 2009 vs. 549,000 last year) and the rating is up 50 percent (0.9 this year vs. 0.6 in 2008).

ESPN2’s four telecasts are averaging a 1,219,000 viewers, up 137 percent over the 514,000 viewers last year.  ESPN2’s 0.9 rating are an increase of 125 percent (vs. 0.4 rating in 2008) and household impressions are up 122 percent (898,000 vs. 405,000).

Collectively, ESPN and ESPN2’s Little League World Series coverage generated five telecasts posting a 1.0 rating or higher over the opening weekendESPN360.com’s usage was an increase of 545 percent in total hours during the Little League World Series’ opening weekend when compared to the same weekend in 2008.

ABC’s Saturday broadcast (Warner Robins, Ga. vs. Staten Island, N.Y.) posted a 1.3 overnight rating, up 160 percent over the comparable 0.5 overnight rating a year ago.  Sunday’s Little League World Series broadcast on ABC (Russellville, Ky. vs. San Antonio) generated a 0.9 overnight rating, an increase of 29 percent over last year’s 0.7 overnight rating.

ESPN’s Little League World Series coverage from Williamsport, Pa., is coming off momentum built during the Regional Finals, which demonstrated significant audience growth including:

ESPN

  • Five telecasts up 19 percent in households (708,000 vs. 596,000 for five telecasts in 2008);
  • a 0.7 average rating, an increase of 17 percent over last year’s 0.6 rating;
  • up 14 percent in viewership (889,000 viewers vs. 779,000).

ESPN2

  • three telecasts up 55 percent among households (721,000 vs. 465,000 for three telecasts in 2008);
  • an increase of 53 percent among viewers (972,000 vs. 635,000);
  • up 40 percent in rating (0.7 vs. 0.5 last year).

ESPN’s coverage of the Little League World Series will continue throughout the week – all 32 games available in HD – including the semifinals and final this weekend (Aug. 29-30) on ABC.

Oooh, in HD! You can see the drops of every tear, the curve of every pimple!

Really, if you don’t have a child or know a child involved, why are you watching the Little League World Series? And don’t tell me because the kids play only for the love of the game, because anyone who has been around youth sports for more than two minutes knows that isn’t true. All you’re doing is encouraging more of this stuff to get on television, like MLB TV’s August foray into televising youth baseball championships.

Or is that what you want? You creepy, creepy television viewer, you.

Written by rkcookjr

August 26, 2009 at 6:05 pm

Girls play baseball, too

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nogirlsYou wouldn’t know it from the rosters at the Little League World Series, but there’s a groundswell growing to let girls play baseball.

Growing only now, you say, 35 years after Little League was forced by lawsuit to allow girls to play? (The ban came into effect after the 1950 season, when a girl posed as a boy named “Tubby” to play in Corning, N.Y.) And what do I mean, “let?” Isn’t this issue settled?

Not by a long shot. Female baseball players are few and far between. In Indiana, the state’s high school athletic association overturned a ban on girls even trying out for baseball only this spring, after determining it would lose a lawsuit. A girl playing high school baseball is still big news. And two different books were published this year explaining the past and current history of baseball authorities at every level being active members of the He-Man Woman Haters Club.

Little League would certainly not call itself a member. In 2004, when it had two girls in the World Series, it had a special ceremony to honor female ballplayers. This year, for the second time, the Little League World Series roster features two girls: Katie Reyes of Vancouver, B.C., and Bryn Stonehouse of Dharhan, Saudi Arabia. (Stonehouse, a Katy, Texas, native, plays for a team of expatriates residing in the Saudi Aramco Residential Camp, the fenced-in company town for the world’s largest oil company.) Reyes and Stonehouse brings the number of girls who have played in South Williamsport, Pa., up to 15 all-time. Between 2004 and 2009, there were zero girls in the Little League World Series.

Whether there are girls or whomever on a Little League World Series team has to do with the makeup of the league and the all-stars of the locality that has its tournament run. But that two girls is a rare event is evidence of all the years of banning and otherwise discouraging girls from playing. At Little League age, boys and girls are still competitive physically. Reyes is 5-foot-6, 132 pounds, and Stonehouse is 5-foot-4, 150 pounds — each bigger than many of their teammates. For that matter, my 10-year-old daughter is taller than a few of my 12-year-old son’s friends. If girls were encouraged to play baseball, there is no physical reason they could not compete.

However, since Title IX and Little League lawsuits and whatnot forced organizations and schools to let girls play at all, they have been steered toward the stated equivalent of baseball: softball.

Now, I’m not going to crack on softball. My 10-year-old daughter has played it, and well (she’s a three-time All-Star, if I may brag. And because it’s my blog, I can.) I’ve coached two teams. I know that if a girl is going to get that elusive (and often mythical, given how few actually get them) athletic scholarship for a stick-and-ball sport, it will be softball. Also, socially I can understand why girls would want to play in a sport with other girls, rather than be vastly outnumbered in baseball. Reyes and Stonehouse aren’t rooming with their teammates at the Little League World Series. They’re rooming with each other.

But I understand that baseball and softball are not the same, and that if a girl wants the opportunity to play baseball, she should have it. As it turns out, there are more female-only baseball organizations forming for the benefit of girls who would like to play the sport without having to put up with the male bullshit. Part of the ultimately unsuccessful bid to get baseball back for the 2016 Olympics was to have men’s and women’s baseball events.

Reyes has said she wants to keep playing baseball. Stonehouse, who played softball in the U.S., said she would like to return to the sport. Either is acceptable and should be encouraged. I believe, in the immortal words of “Bad News Bears in Breaking Training:” Let! Them! Play!

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Written by rkcookjr

August 24, 2009 at 11:16 pm

Little League World Series: Pure as the driven slush

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When I hear the word “purity” associated with Little League baseball, that’s when I reach for Hermann Goering’s mythical revolver.

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Or my Mission of Burma collection.

Examples such as:

Aug. 12, 2009, the Sun News, Macon, Ga.: “The down-home, old-fashioned aura that the modern Little League game can still generate is something Warner Robins will do its best to nurture, said Jimmy Autry, vice president of community relations for Flint Energies, who flew to West Virginia to cheer on the Warner Robins baseball all-stars. ‘It’s going to be fun to play host to the people who like the purity of Little League.'”

Aug. 4, 2009, the Boston Globe: The headline is, “Little League final, big league joy: For fans, purity of the ‘ol’ ball game’ shines through.” Based on interviews with fans at (snicker) Harry Ball Field (snort).

Aug. 24, 2007, Beliefnet: The religion-oriented site explains why the Little League World Series is a popular TV draw. “If they’re not as gifted as professional athletes, and if they’re not as mature as them, then the conclusion may be that there’s just something inspiring about the simplicity and purity of youth baseball. These kids have nothing to play for but their team, their city, and their family. They get no money, no performance bonuses, no contract extensions. They have no union.”

The Beliefnet piece does a good job explaining what purity in sports means, and why I sounds like Old Man Grumpus (right) when it’s invoked. Purity is someone not getting paid so someone else can rake in all the money.

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Me, after pondering Little League, then getting ready to yell at clouds.

Think of the Olympics, before everyone pretty much gave up the ghost on professionalism. Or the NCAA, which perpetuates the fiction of the student-athlete, in that order.

Or Little League, which has come to rely on ESPN television money for about one-quarter of its approximately $20 million annual budget. Perceived purity pays well. Just ask the Jonas Brothers.

I’m not saying Little League is some sort of youth athletic cesspool. But this canard that somehow an enterprise that requires maximum pitch counts so coaches don’t turn their kids into rubber arms by age 13, and an enterprise that gets millions of dollars in TV money, is somehow “pure” just makes me gag.

Youth sports can be a wonderful thing. My kids are involved in them. I coach them. But if there’s any “purity” in them, I can’t see it. From birth, or even before then, parents are scheming to figure out how to turn their kids into future college scholarship recipients, or better yet, multimillion-dollar professionals. Coaches are pulling out all stops to win, just like at any other level. Money is made. Not everyone is like this. But enough are to put a lie to the idea that everyone is there just for the fun of it.

I’m not one who believes there was a good ol’ days when things were, indeed, pure. Little League’s founder, Carl Stotz, was fired in 1955 after complaining his league had become a “commercial enterprise.” He, unsuccessfully, argued against a Little League World Series.

If you watch any of the Little League World Series, you shouldn’t do so expecting that you’re seeing baseball as God intended. Purity is an impossible ideal — no matter what ESPN blathers about the joy of watching youngsters play for no money.

Written by rkcookjr

August 16, 2009 at 11:36 pm