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Opinion: "We Don't Have Enough Pitchers!"
by Vince Muehe

I listened to a wide variety of people this weekend talk about pitchers.  There was one common theme.  Associations don't know what they're going to do at 10U this Fall or next Spring, because they don't have the pitching depth they believe they need.

Whose responsibility is it to develop pitchers?

Parent sign their daughters up to play fastpitch with the idea that they will be coached.  Most believe they will be coached to play a variety of positions and that their daughter will gravitate to enjoying one position more and will most likely excel at that position.

Most parent-coaches (let's face it, that's what we have at the youngest ages), believe they can coach any position on the field, but are scared to death of pitching -- especially the male coaches.  That underarm windmill motion baffles them and they want no part of teaching it.

And there's time.  When should someone teach pitching?  How old should they be?  How can you incorporate pitching into a team practice -- because there's so much else to teach!

A little advice:

Communities are starting to have 8U teams.  They don't pitch in games.  But they are a captive audience for learning how to pitch.  Invite people that have a background in pitching to assist and start teaching these 6-8 year olds the basic mechanics.

After the season is over, have pitching lessons, predominately for 6-10 year olds.  They can be group lessons.  Bring in an instructor to do those lessons.  That instructor may be a paid professional pitching coach, a high school or college pitcher that would like to make a few bucks for doing lessons, or maybe a parent who has had a daughter who was a pitcher and they've learned a few things while sitting on a bucket and can teach those younger girls.  (It's how I got started coaching pitchers).

Pitching is a skill that is learned in the off-season more than it is learned during the season.  A one weekend clinic doesn't cut it.  It's going to require multiple weeks, months, of training.  Be prepared, some will learn quickly and some will take longer.  You have to be flexible in how you teach to each athlete.  And just because they may not get it today, doesn't mean they won't be the best pitcher you have in a couple years.

Keeping pitchers is almost as difficult as creating them.

It's a lot of work to become a pitcher.  If they don't have fun and get into games, there is no return on the investment.  As longs as the girls are investing time to learn to pitch, coaches need to learn how to invest in them to get them time in games.  It's important to keep their interest up.

How old should they be when they start?   I wish I had the answer.  My oldest daughter started pitching at 12U about four years after the associations decided that 11-12 year olds could probably handle the game.  She started pitching when she was 10 and played 12U-B as an 11-year-old.

My youngest daughter was on the first 10U team in Burnsville, after playing one year of 12U as an 8-year old.  And she pitched. 

Now, I'm scouting for girls that I'd like to coach that are 6-8 years old.  (I have all that I can handle right now).   I think they are fantastic!  It takes longer to teach some things, but they have so much fun learning.  It's a bit of an experiment for me.  Can I keep a 6-year-old happy pitching in practice, but not pitching in games for at least two or maybe three years, until she can get on a 10U team.  I think it can be done.  The crucial part is finding the right athlete and more importantly, the right parents.  I need parents that can see long term and that slow and steady is going to win the race.  Parents that encourage without demanding. 

"We don't have enought pitchers" is correct, but we know how to fix the problem.  We just have to take the initiative to do so.  By the way, almost every gym in a community is open on Wednesday evenings during the winter.  There are kids that will pitch on Wednesdays.  You just have to create the opportunity.

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3 Words Every Athlete Needs to Hear

"STOP LOOKING AT YOUR PHONE!" yells Tasha, a point guard on the 6th grade YMCA basketball team I was coaching.

Immediately, I smile and start to explain to her that I forgot my watch and I needed to make sure we were on schedule. Tasha rolled her eyes, clearly unimpressed with my response.

"No big deal," I had thought to myself on the way to practice when I realized I forgot my watch, "I'll use my phone." Fifteen minutes into practice, I had pulled out my phone to make sure we were on schedule. Big mistake.

"Can you believe the nerve of that girl?" I thought. "Here I am, the volunteer head coach, staying up late watching videos on drills and strategy, planning practices on my lunch break, staying late for players who parents are delayed picking up their child…and now some kid is telling me to put my phone away when all I am doing is making sure practice is on schedule?"

Reflecting back on that practice later that night, though, I asked myself what did Tasha really want? What was she really asking for?

I realized that she was looking for the one thing kids crave more than anything else. She wanted me to be there, in that moment, in that drill, watching her and her teammates. She wanted my attention.

She didn't simply want me to care for her, or love her, or teach her how to play the game. She wanted more.

She wanted me to see her!

Have you ever seen the movie Avatar? During the film, the Na'vi race express their affection for each other not by saying "I love you," but by saying, "I see you." Isn't that beautiful? Isn't that how we should coach our athletes? We can love someone and still be less than present at times. But to "see" someone requires us to be fully engaged and present.

When a child knows you see them, they want to impress you. Changing the Game Project Founder John O'Sullivan's TED talk teaches parents to say five simple words to your child after a game or practice, "I love watching you play."

The key word is watching.

Watching is being present and engaged. See the good. See the bad. And yes, it's OK to even see the ugly. Just see all of it!

"I see you" does not mean coaching from the sideline. It does not mean constantly critiquing or second-guessing. It does not mean only pointing out mistakes. It means simply being present, engaged and watching.

"Were you watching when I made that goal?"

"Were you watching when the coach put me in?"

"Were you watching when I got fouled and the ref didn't call it?"

"Did you see all my good passes or only the bad ones?"

We live in a world filled with distractions. We are always connected to email, to text, to social media, and have a phone on our hip 24/7. We have all been out to a nice restaurant and have seen a family at dinner, each on their own cell phone, fully immersed in Facebook, or Twitter, or texting, and not at all present with each other. We go to our doctor's office and they are not looking at us, but typing on their computer as we speak. Eye contact and full engagement seem to be a lost art.

Kids love presents, but what they need, and what they will remember, is presence. They need to know you notice them. They need to see an example of what it means to pay attention. We set that example with our actions.

When it comes to our kids sporting events I see many parents watching every practice, or attending every single game, yet rarely are they fully present. They are watching through the lens of a camera or a smartphone, or staring at their screen instead of their athlete. I see coaches sending texts, or on the side chatting with another coach instead of coaching their players.

Our kids notice when we are distracted. That's what Tasha was telling me. Even though my use of the phone was legitimate, I forgot that we judge ourselves by our intentions, while others judge us by our actions. How our athletes perceive our engagement is not necessarily how good our intentions are. We are judged by our kids based upon what they see us do. The message I was sending to Tasha and her teammates was one that said "I expect 100% focus, effort and commitment from you, the athlete, yet I don't expect that of myself."

Coaches and parents must remember that our athletes thrive not simply on love, but on being noticed. "Do you see me?" and "Watch me do this," is child-speak for, "I want to show you I'm worthy of your affection."

Here are 5 ways coaches and parents can make sure your athletes know "I see you":

1. Be present

Parents, you are not required to be at every single practice or game. Your kids won't think less of you for not being there all the time. In fact, many of them will appreciate those moments away from a parent's attention. It allows for freedom. It tells them the experience belongs to them. But when you do go and watch, shut off your phone. Be a fan (no coaching). When you are there, be fully present.

Coaches, I cannot stress enough how important it is to be fully engaged in practice. Far too many coaches:

  • Fail to arrive prepared, on time, or dressed properly for practice

  • Stop coaching and start talking to a parent or fellow coach about unrelated issues, thereby checking out of practice

  • Send texts or check social media during game or practice time

  • Default to more scrimmage time instead of preparing and teaching

  • What message do you think these above actions send? Great coaching is hard work and needs your full attention before, during and after training. Your actions speak louder than words. Stay engaged, and so will your players.

2. Catch them doing something right. . .

. . .and acknowledge it both verbally and non-verbally. I had a basketball player last season that was afraid to shoot because her previous coach would yell at her when she missed. She needed consistent reassurance it was okay to shoot on her new team. After every shot, she would look over to the bench hoping to catch my gaze. Whether she missed or made the shot, she got a thumbs up from me. By the end of the season, she was my leading scorer. Research demonstrates that people perform best when they get five pieces of positive reinforcement for every one correction or critique. As World Cup and Olympic winning soccer coach Tony DiCicco states, the secret to developing successful athletes is to "catch them being good."

3. Make it safe to fail. . .

. . .especially when you catch them doing something wrong. Athletes know when they mess up. Mistakes are inevitable. An adult's reaction to a mistake can either encourage or hinder risk-taking. When Lionel Messi was a young player at Barcelona, he would try and dribble past four defenders, often losing the ball. Do you think his coaches yelled at him to pass? Nope. They stopped the play, gave him the ball back, and said, "Try that again."

Coaches, if your players make a mistake, especially when they are fully focused and giving full effort, acknowledge their effort and encourage them to try again. Instead of taking them out of the game, call them to the sideline, tell them to try again, then send them back out there. That shows you trust them, and trust from a player to a coach goes a long way.

4. Connect with them about things not related to sports

A wise coach once told me "sports will be over and your athletes will have at least 2/3 of their life ahead of them. If your entire relationship consists of talking about sports, what then?" This shook me and made me realize that it was imperative to connect about things away from the field. This connection not only forms lifelong friendships, but it helps athletes perform better in two ways. First, they realize their worth is not simply just a pair of feet or some good hands, but as a human being. And second, this connection allows for a stronger relationship, one that can bear the burden of the hard truths both parents and coaches are required to discuss with the young men and women in their care.

5. Give them ownership of the outcome

World-renowned sport psychologist Dr. Jerry Lynch speaks of the three questions a coach should ask at halftime of a game.

  • What is working?

  •  What is not working?

  • How can we fix it?

Do you see how these questions help players take ownership of the good, the bad, and the solution? By allowing them to have some input your players will compete harder because you have acknowledged their ideas and their input, and they are trying to execute their solution. You have seen them.As a parent, you do this by accepting your child's goals for playing and letting the experience belong to them. Push them toward their goals, not your own, and when they succeed, remind them it was their effort that brought success.

Kids are not mini-adults, and, therefore, do not possess adult emotions, values, or priorities. Yet one thing they do have in common with adults is they want to be acknowledged. They want to be noticed when they get it right and told its OK when they get it wrong. They do not need to be coddled, but they do need a safe place to fail. When you do these things, your athletes will compete harder, take ownership, and excel.

That is why we must be very intentional about the things we do when we are watching our kids play, and especially when we are coaching them.

That's why we must remember that any parent or coach can tell a child "I love watching you play."

Source: Changing the Game Project

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15 Eye-Opening Facts about Youth Sports

Youth sports is big business. It is so huge that we can only guess at how large it has grown.

I've seen annual estimates of more than $21 million all the way to $35 million for children ages 5-18.

That number may sound good, but let's look at the facts behind the big number.

  1. Kids are starting earlier and earlier. 67 percent of boys and 47 percent of girls are already on teams by age 6 (ESPN).

  2. Kids are getting busier. 51 percent of third- to fifth-grade boys who live in the suburbs play on three or more teams (ESPN).

  3. Kids are defining themselves by their sports. 61 percent of all boys who play say that sports are a big part of who they are. 34 percent of girls say the same thing.

  4. Kids are quitting because they don't have fun.The biggest reason kids quit sports is because they are not having fun (36 percent girls, 39 percent boys) (ESPN).

  5. Kids in the city have fewer opportunities to play sports. Urban boys (39 percent) and girls (28 percent) have fewer roster position available than rural boys and girls (50 percent, 63 percent) (ESPN).

  6. Kids are not going pro. The odds? For high school football players, it's 1 in 6,000. Baseball is 1 in 4,000. Basketball is 1 in 10,000. (USA Today)

  7. Kids want to play sports with friends. 65 percent of them participate in sports to be with friends. (USA Today)

  8. Kids aren't as concerned about winning as adults. 71 percent of children say they wouldn't care if no score was kept in their games. (USA Today)

  9. Kids enjoy sports more without pressure. 37 percent wish no parents would watch them play. (USA Today)

  10. Kids are not always treated respectfully. 45 percent have been called names or insulted by coaches. (USA Today)

  11. Kids are getting coached by their dads. 85 percent of coaches are dads coaching their own kids. (USA Today)

  12. Kids' sports participation declines with age. Most stop playing at age 13, and most 8-to 12-year-olds say they would stop at 13. (Sports Illustrated)

  13. Kids are learning good things from sports. 67 percent learn to be a team player. 67 percent meet people they wouldn't have otherwise meet. 42 percent develop discipline. (Sports Illustrated)

  14. Kids get injured when they play. More than 3.5 million children age 14 and younger receive medical treatment for sports injuries annually. According to the CDC, more than half of all sports injuries are preventable. (Sports Marketing Surveys)

  15. Kids are not always getting trained coaches. Only 1 in 5 coaches of youth teams of children under age 14 say they have been trained in effective motivational technique, and just 1 in 3 in skills and tactics in the primary sports they coach. (Sports Marketing Surveys)

Why do these facts matter? For starters, they show how influential youth sports is and at the same time, how distorted it has become.

The statistics show that youth sports in its purest form is a wonderful learning and growing experience for kids. It's us adults who tend to mess it up.

Source: USA Football

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Take you ego out of it; enjoy the journey and let them be happy simply playing the game

If you're a parent and you've got a son or a daughter who either plays sports at any level or wants to someday play sports, listen up for a minute here.

Enjoy it. Enjoy every bit of it.

Doesn't matter if it's recreational soccer, Little League, Junior Jazz, top-drawer club, high school or college sports, or any and all of the above.

Embrace the experience. And love your kid along the way, come what may.

Because it will end one day and all you and your kid will have are relationships and memories. At that point, the trophies or lack thereof won't matter at all.

You won't even remember the wins and losses. Well, you'll remember some of them, but not the way you think you will, not with the same intensity or perspective. It will be OK. It should be.

I hugged my kid, Taylor, last night at her final high school volleyball banquet, and it felt good. She's a senior now and probably won't play high-level organized volleyball again. She's the last of five daughters, all of whom played sports, some of whom were more athletic and skilled than their siblings, and I won't go into any detail here about who was better and who was worse. I'm not a complete idiot.

But when I looked into Taylor's eyes, after I wiped away the backed-up plumbing in my own, I saw happiness and satisfaction for what she had accomplished with her team and gratitude that I supported and encouraged her and pretty much stayed out of the way and kept my big bazoo shut.

Her volleyball experience may not have been always perfect — there were highs and lows and lows and highs — but it was hers, shared with her team(s) through the years.

The last thing she needed or wanted was an overzealous parent who felt compelled to make it his.

Having had five kids play sports taught me a few things, things parents are better off learning sooner rather than later. I've told the story before and I'll tell it again, about watching my oldest daughter, Lauren, play a tennis match early in her development against an opponent she ordinarily would have beaten with relative ease. I stood next to her coach, Clark, while she slammed balls all over creation, missing badly.

I said to him: "What's wrong with her today?"

He said: "I'm proud of her. I changed her grip a couple of days ago, and she's staying with it. She could have switched back to win, but she's doing exactly what I told her to do."

I mumbled and grumbled and harrumphed.

A few minutes later, I said: "Man, Clark, this is hard to watch."

He said: "It's a lot harder watching it with you."

That was some 20 years ago, and I never forgot those words.

Here's what those 20 years of watching kids play sports taught me:

Don't fret over and complain about coaches or playing time. Don't be stupid. Don't be impatient. Don't be selfish. Don't dial in on only my (or your) own kid. Don't jump Coach Fuddpucker on account of the fact that Bill and Cindy's boy or Jim and Sally's girl is getting more minutes and shots and touches and opportunities and glory than my (or your) boy or girl is. Don't go there. Stow my (your) ego away. Don't live vicariously through my (your) child. Don't take anything personally. Don't ruin the whole deal for my (your) kid by putting negative thoughts in his or her mind about his or her coaches or his or her circumstances. Let them find their own way through it — and they will.

They'll work harder or they won't. They'll exceed my (your) expectations or they won't. They'll take lessons learned or they won't. It's up to them, no matter how much I (you) might think otherwise.

Over those years, I've seen all kinds of bad behavior on the part of grown adults who have acted more like the kid, while their kid acted more like the adult. I saw parent-kid relationships ruptured because a parent thought his or her child was going to be Tiger Woods or Steffi Graf or Mike Trout or John Stockton or Aaron Rodgers or Mia Hamm or Logan Tom. When all their kid wanted to be was happy, playing a game.

Last night, I looked at my daughter and her friends on her team and felt good inside about her — their — experience with sports. She was still my goofy, knuckleheaded girl, although, when I looked close, I realized she was standing on the other side of a threshold I hadn't even realized she'd crossed. And sports, thankfully, had helped her get there.

Source: Salt Lake Tribune

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Girl threatens to sue school district after not making cheerleading team

When head coach Caylen Berry hosted tryouts for her high school's cheerleading team this summer, she knew there wouldn't be enough slots for everyone. Leon High School in Tallahassee, where she coaches, had had a strong year: They'd been runner-ups in a state competition and were slated to compete at a national competition next winter.

So when one prospective member trying out fell twice during her audition, Berry had to turn her away — she wasn't ranked well enough to make the award-winning team.

But the student, a rising senior whose name was not disclosed, thought differently. Her parent filed a complaint with the district and the Tallahassee Democrat reported the girl might sue if her tryout outcome isn't reversed.

Coaches and cheerleaders on the team were concerned. Other schools in the same district had had some cheerleading decisions overturned in the past, the Democrat reported, and Berry said she was worried the same might happen to her team.

"They should not put an athlete on the team that doesn't deserve to be on the team," Berry told the Democrat. "A decision like this would question my integrity as a professional. It also questions the entire legitimacy of tryouts and cheerleading as a sport."

District spokesman Chris Petley confirmed to the Democrat that the school district had received a parent complaint, though he did not elaborate on its content. The school's principal, Billy Epting, told the paper he was "reviewing the various information" to decide the girl's status on the team.

Ricky Bell, the school district's director of student activities cautioned that the complaint filed by the girl's parent had to be investigated, but that the district would coordinate with school officials before making any decisions.

"We work to do what's in the best interest of the student and the school," he said to the Democrat.

Berry, unintimidated by the legal threat, said coaches and some cheerleaders would consider quitting if the girl was allowed onto the team.

"This is just a thing the district does and thinks is OK," Berry said. "I don't know why the district feels the need to go behind the back of the coaches and the school."

Source: Miami Herald

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