(Hopefully) good sports essays and observations for good sports by a guy who tries (and can sometimes fail) to be a good sport.


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Sunday, April 18, 2010

Early Reactions to Travel Softball Tournaments

I just got back from a travel softball tournament. On Saturdays, teams play for seeding, and on Sundays, there's a single elimination tournament for the trophies. Here are a few observations:

1. The Trunk of Your Car Must Be a Well-Stocked Locker. Especially in the spring, when there's rain in the forecast, it's windy and say not going to get about 58 degrees. Accordingly, I had a pretty warm coat, rain gear (including rain pants), an umbrella, gloves, a scarf, a few hats, a cooler full of cold drinks, energy bars, first aid stuff (ice packs, Icy Hot, a first-aid kit), a spare pair of cleats for my daughter, blankets, the $9 on sale portable chairs purchased at Dick's sporting goods and a catching bucket (i.e., the type with a cushion on top in case I was needed to warm up my daughter before she got a chance to pitch). My daughter had her equipment bag full of stuff, too.

2. Remember the Primary Thing. Okay, so to paraphrase Jim Morris from "The Rookie," it's never "just one thing," but remember this -- softball is a kids' game, for kids, and it's supposed to be fun.

3. Remember the Two Commandments of Softball Parenting. The first is "Thou Shalt Not Approach the Bench." Put differently, it means "leave your daughter the hell alone." Unless, of course, you need to remind her to put on sunscreen or in case you see that she gets hurt. The kids put enough pressure on themselves, and you'll only add to it by approaching the bench to offer guidance to either your child or her coaches.

The second is, "Thou Shalt Not Draw Attention to Yourself as a Fan." Put another way, don't say anything to embarrass yourself or, worse, your kid. It's okay to cheer reasonably, but refrain from going psycho on the umpires on a close play and, especially, from getting on the other coaches or players.

4. Check Out the Area to Find a Restaurant or Too. And not so much for the obvious reasons, but for clean bathrooms. Not every travel venue has permanent bathrooms, which means that they deploy Port-a-Potties, which can get to be pretty disgusting by the end of the first day and clearly by the second day. It's not a bad thing to know.

5. Vendors Make a Killing on These Softball Teams. Take a look around -- at the uniforms, the jackets, the sweatshirts, the color-coordinated cleats, dugout "caddies" for the placement of helmets, pants, batting tees, batting nets, the gloves, the bats (some bats cost $300) and you'll see that there really isn't anything parents won't do for their kids. My daughter uses a $40 bat we purchased at Dick's, although some of her friends on other teams swear by their $300 bats the way first-time parents coo over their newborns. So I asked parents of kids on a 14-and-under travel team about the difference. Thankfully, they told me that they'll only make a difference if your kid's a good hitter because they're better made and allow for more pop when your daughter connects. They also told me ways to find last year's models on eBay for $150. I hardly realized that it could cost you so much to outfit a kid for softball.

6. It's Amazing How These Girls Dress in the Cold Weather. Some went sleeveless today (because many softball shirts are sleeveless) in weather that was 54 degrees and slightly windy. They are the girls, aren't they? Others took a more sensible approach and wore long-sleeved Under Armour underneath their game shirts. The one thing that does appear to bother the girls is that if the shirts aren't tapered, they're bothersome. So Under Armour is in, but cotton sweatshirts or t-shirts are out.

7. It's a Fascinating Game of Ritual, Repetition and Fundamentals. There are a few fundamental principles of fast-pitch softball beyond having an untouchable pitcher who can locate four pitches. They are (i) play flawless defense (or, in other words, don't give a good opponent more than 3 outs in an inning or they'll end up burying you), (ii) as a corollary to (i), make sure your kids know what to do in every single situation in the field and that they also have enough reps to charge the ball, take the cut-off, go back on fly balls (and many other things) and (iii) make sure that they know the strike zone, steal on every opportunity and challenge throwing arms whenever possible (and within reason). You don't want to give your opponents too many opportunities, and you don't want to help the other pitcher by swinging at balls out of the strike zone.

8. It's Helpful for a Team to Have the Same Pre-game Routine Every Time. A set routine helps the girls relax and builds their confidence. So, start with hitting grounders to some kids while others hit into a batting net and while the pitchers warm up with catchers, practice charging short pop ups, sliding, whatever it is. You probably can't overdo drilling. Your kids need to know to charge balls, come up throwing and think for themselves as to which base to throw to. The game moves too fast for the kids to wait for instructions.

9. There's a Lot of Talent Out There.

That's about all I can type now, as I'm thawing out from 1 and 1/2 days of watching games and trying to stay warm in chilly weather. My daughter's season just started, and we have many tournaments to go.


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