Your Kid’s Not Going Pro

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Posts Tagged ‘Peyton Manning

Bryce Harper is a jerk — is that supposed to be shocking?

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At 16, Las Vegas wunderkind Bryce Harper was on the cover of Sports Illustrated as “Baseball’s Chosen One,” and became the subject of the first post of a certain True/Slant youth sports blog you happen to be reading. He left high school after his sophomore year to get his GED so he could play at the junior college level in order to get better competition and a spot as the No. 1 pick of the 2010 Major League Baseball draft. So at 17, he is tearing things up at the College of Southern Nevada, Through 47 games, playing catcher, third base and outfield, he has hit (with a wood bat) .410 with 21 homers, 59 RBI and a 1.414 OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging.)

Harper’s status as the No. 1 draft pick (held by the Washington Nationals) seems assured. Not only does Harper have the superstar numbers, but he also apparently has the superstar attitude: raging fucking asshole. Apparently major league teams are completely put off by his personality, which is saying something, because it’s an upset when an elite athlete isn’t a raging fucking asshole.

After all, your top athletes have been pampered since the first day they flashed that ability, given breaks in the classroom, in life and in shagging the opposite sex (of course it’s the opposite sex — these are athletes, right?) that no other child has. Many of your top athletes are known to be raging fucking assholes. Michael Jordan was never considered anybody’s picnic, Peyton Manning is infamous for outbursts to teammates, and Tiger Woods — well, what more needs to be said?

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Baseball Prospectus recently established Harper’s raging fucking asshole M.O. in a recent piece.

When you’re this good this early, people are going to look for flaws in your game and makeup that might turn you from prodigy to failure in the blink of an eye. Fair enough. Baseball Prospectus recently did just that, and found, physically, there was no reason for Harper not to be the GREATEST FUCKING PLAYER WE’VE EVER SEEN! OK, that’s a bit of hyperbole, but the worst Baseball Prospectus could find was that there is a slight chance the 6-foot-3, 205-pound Harper could get too big too early in life, and thus become slow and have little range in the field. That won’t be enough of a risk for the Nationals to turn him down.

However, this what got tongues chattering:

It’s impossible to find any talent evaluator who isn’t blown away by Harper’s ability on the field, but it’s equally difficult to find one who doesn’t genuinely dislike the kid. One scout called him among the worst amateur players he’s ever seen from a makeup standpoint, with top-of-the-scale arrogance, a disturbingly large sense of entitlement, and on-field behavior that includes taunting opponents. “He’s just a bad, bad guy,” said one front-office official.

To be fair to Harper, he has mega-super-duper-agent Scott Boras as an “adviser,” so he’s been able to learn arrogance at the feet of a master. Also, being the prodigy he is, Harper has had a wide clearance to be as much of a raging fucking asshole as he chooses to be. As Baseball Prospectus noted, teams let their superstars be any personality they want. The benchwarmers who are raging fucking assholes are the ones who get tossed for their bad attitudes.

You might say that perhaps Bryce Harper’s parents should pull him aside and tell him to be a little nicer, and maybe they have. But I’m sure a parent of any 17-year-old would say it’s an immense chore trying to stop their own child from being a raging fucking asshole, much less a child who has Scott Boras in his pocket and an assured spot at the top of the Major League Baseball draft.

Mark Zuckerman at Nats Insider quotes a Nationals team official who says the organization is not concerned about Harper’s less-than-jovial personality.

“Is he confident? Yeah,” the team official said. “Is he cocky? Yeah. Does he think he’s the best player on the field at all times? Yeah. But find me a great player who doesn’t think that about himself.”

Whether Harper’s raging fucking asshole act fizzles after he’s drafted depends on two key points, and they’re applicable even if your child is a raging fucking asshole making the superstar move up from 9-year-old basketball to 10-year-old basketball.

The first is how that attitude plays out the first time Harper runs into hard times. That could be a hitting slump, a fielding slump, a teammate who is fighting to keep his own place as big dog of the roster, a coach who hates him. If Harper shows he can adjust and make it through a difficult time without completely melting down, he’ll do well, not only as a player, but also as a person with his teammates and coaches.

Jeremy Tyler, the 18-year-old who left high school early to play pro basketball in Israel, is still a huge (6-foot-11 huge) talent, but NBA scouts have to be asking themselves now if his horrible experience there — a lack of playing time exacerbated by his own immaturity and an inability to listen to coaches — portends any trouble in their league. Tyler probably will get drafted high, but he’s going to get asked a lot of questions about his troubles in Israel, because a team is going to want to know that the next time the going gets tough, Tyler won’t quit on his team again.

The second factor is whether coaches and teammates believe Harper’s raging fucking asshole act is, in the end, good for the team. Michael Jordan was no picnic, but his teammates learned that if you did what he said, he would make you famous and win you championships. Same thing with Manning. (Woods, being in an individual sport, doesn’t apply to Harper.) Below is a widely circulated clip of Manning screaming at his center, Jeff Saturday, after Saturday criticized Manning for calling nothing but pass plays close to the end zone. Manning lets him have it — but Saturday also knows that, in the end, any screaming will result only in the team getting better.

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No doubt, when Harper gets to the pro level, there are going to be people more than having to shove his raging fucking asshole act back down his throat. Harper can turn that around by continuing to play well. But he also can turn that around by showing his teammates that the raging fucking asshole act is all for everyone’s own good.

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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.

If your kids can't become NFL stars, have them rap or sing about NFL stars

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lillronnieAbout four years’ back, Deadspin alerted us to a pint-sized, 12 -year-old Indianapolis rapper named Lil Ronnie, whose oeuvre was dedicated to extolling the virtues of his local Colts. Young Ronnie Dietz was never going to become a Colts, but latching onto the team, and the attention from Deadspin, helped him build his budding rap career. Well, such as it exists.

With Lil Ronnie having gone through puberty and all his Colts-related material, a vacuum existed for children to extol the virtues of Peyton Manning and company in song. And that vacuum has been filled by the Faber Boys, combined age of 12 (eight and four), who in the preseason wrote and recorded “We Are the Colts.”

Actually, I presume their parents were involved somewhat, given the production values are a step up, slightly, from wiffle-bat-to-the-crotch shots on “America’s Funniest Home Videos,” and given that even at their combine age they’re too young to have registered for their own MySpace account.

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They’re going to have to update those lyrics to note that offensive coordinator Tom Moore and offensive line assistant Howard Mudd are still on the coaching roster (they retired briefly because of pension issues, but returned once those were settled), and that most every defensive player they mention is on injured reserve.

Otherwise, with the Colts remaining undefeated after 14 games, the Faber Boys might have a chance at riding that bandwagon to future success as pro musicians, rather than pro football players. Well, given that Lil Ronnie is pretty much an unknown, maybe the chances of going pro as a musician glomming onto pro players are as remote as becoming a pro player.

Written by rkcookjr

December 18, 2009 at 3:53 pm

Go pro the Tom Brady way

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2253547923_f21f9d70a2Rick Chandler, blogging at NBCSports.com, has an interesting interview with Bill Harke, a pro golf caddy who caught the first pass Tom Brady ever threw in organized football. It wasn’t when both were age 6, or 8, or 10, or 12. It was when both were freshmen at Junipero Serra High in San Mateo, Calif.

That sounds kind of late to get started at quarterback, doesn’t it? These days it sure does. And it’s not like Brady was even supposed to be a quarterback for the freshman team. Harke’s story — as well as the yearbook photo of Brady that accompanies yet — feeds into a big part of the mythology of Brady that is as powerful a story as Michael Jordan getting cut from his high school basketball varsity team as a sophomore. That is, that your kid, like Brady, might not look like much athletically even into high school, yet could still grow up to be a Hall of Fame quarterback and impregnator of beautiful women the world over.

Here is Chandler talking to Harke and talking about what lead up to, and followed, that first pass:

[Brady] arrived at his first day of football practice in Sept. of 1991 as an unknown quantity, having never played a down of organized football. Brady had been a baseball standout, and indeed, he went on to become an all-league catcher at Serra, being drafted by the Montreal Expos. But on the first day of freshman football practice, his coaches took one look at the ponderous, somewhat chubby youngster and said “lineman.”

Because of his work ethic and throwing ability, Brady actually gravitated to starting linebacker and backup quarterback. But he didn’t have what one would call “wheels,” unless the wheels in question were attached to a dump truck. He didn’t play QB much, and in fact, completed only one pass his entire freshman season. It was an inauspicious beginning, but never before has the term “first in a series” been packed with more meaning. …

The team wasn’t exactly a juggernaut. The Serra freshmen went 0-8-1 that season, and were shut out in three league games.

“Tom was a linebacker, and also our third-string quarterback,” Harke said. “Our first-string quarterback was Kevin Krystofiak, who was pretty fast and athletic. It was the fourth game of the season before Tom ever got to play quarterback.”

That game, against St. Francis, also happened to be the first time Harke set foot on the field.

“The first time I got to play also happened to be Brady’s first series at quarterback,” Harke said. “We were behind by 20 points or something, and they were emptying the bench. I had always worked my ass off in practice, so they decided they’d let me in for a couple of plays. So I get into the huddle, and the first play they call to me.

“I remember thinking, ‘It’s coming to me?’ There wasn’t a lot of time to think out it. I just did this little out pattern, and Tom threw it right in my numbers for seven yards. I caught it and ran out of bounds.”

Tom Brady’s first pass, and first completion. It would also be Brady’s only completion that season. And as it turned out, it would be the only reception of Harke’s football career. …

Krystofiak, now a partner in an insurance firm in San Francisco, says that he doesn’t remember that play specifically.

“I don’t know why I wasn’t playing then,” Krystofiak said. “I just remember that we weren’t very good that year. Tom had a great arm, but he couldn’t move very well. We all thought his big sport would be baseball.”

Krystofiak gave up football following his freshman year to concentrate on basketball, where he became an all-league point guard. That opened the door for Brady to become the starting quarterback his sophomore year.

And it also meant that Kevin Krystofiak would never get the chance to bang Gisele Bundchen. (Instead, Krystofiak served as the third wheel in the “Bachelor” romance of Andrew Firestone and Jen Scheft.)

So Brady had no quarterback school. He didn’t start playing as a toddler and get drilled by his dad every waking moment. He was just a chubby kid who got a chance and took it. Great inspiration for your own child, no?

No.

It’s a little more complicated than that. Yes, there are Tom Bradys who seem like they’re pretty good and suddenly wow you in the pros when junior high hotshots have long faded. But here is the recipe you need if your child is to be Tom Brady:

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1. Natural athleticism and size

Brady indeed had established himself as an athlete, just not in football. He played catcher, so he had already been working on his arm strength and throwing long before he stepped on a football field. If your child is going to come out of nowhere to do well, even in school sports, he or she has to be somewhat athletic to begin with. I’m not sure how tall Brady was then, but he grew up to be 6-foot-4, so it’s probably safe to say he wasn’t 5 feet tall. Without athleticism, without the right size and shape, your child isn’t going to make waves in sports, no matter how many high-level quarterbacking schools you make him attend.

2. Drive

It’s not in Harke’s story, at least not the one told in Chandler’s blog, but Brady, even as a small child, had well-established himself as being maniacally competitive, in a good way. He didn’t yank his ball and go home if he failed. He worked hard to figure out what he had to do better. One story that’s made the rounds is that he would challenge the fastest kid in the neighborhood to a race, get smoked, and then analyze what he could do better next time, eventually figuring out how to beat them. Another is that he was dissatisfied with his high school’s football conditioning program, so he developed his own drills. I coach so many kids who love the sport, but don’t like the work. Even if you seem born to football, like son-of-a-quarterback Peyton Manning, you accomplish nothing if you don’t work hard when no one is looking.

3. Perseverance

At every level he played — high school, college and pro — Brady was handed nothing. He had to be patient and wait for his opportunity, which he did rather than throw a hissy-fit about not being handed a starter’s job. (He did see a sports psychologist in college to deal with not starting, but he didn’t throw a tantrum in front of his coach.) This point is related to point No. 2: you have to love what you’re doing enough, and work hard enough at it, to make your own opportunities and take advantage when they come.

4. Luck

A little good fortune doesn’t hurt. Brady got the starting job in high school when the quarterback got injured. Brady seemed destined to ride the bench in New England until Drew Bledsoe got hurt his second year. No. 4, of course, was nothing without Nos. 1, 2 and 3 giving Brady the ability to take advantage of it. Another stroke of luck: hooking up with Bill Belichick as his coach in New England. Belichick drafted him and kept him around when no one else probably would have, what with Belichick, known for having loads of Nos. 2 and 3, recognized that in Brady. As well as the fact that both can be equally douchey. (Well, regarding Brady, I base that declaration of doucheyness on my wife’s opinion of how Brady and Bundchen treated his ex, Bridget Moynahan, when she was pregnant.)

Of course, your child can have all four of these straits and do no better than the high school second-string and a date with a member of the prom court. But whatever the level of success, what all four of these traits have in common is that ultimate success for your child athlete has less to do with your pushing them and more to do with genes, luck and a whole lot of self-motivation.

Written by rkcookjr

November 18, 2009 at 10:47 pm