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Sunday, June 06, 2010

The Travel Team Diaries -- Vignettes

Okay, so I've been at travel tournaments, watching travel teams, talking with travel coaches, talking with travel parents, and I have the following to share:

1. I was talking to the parent of a kid on my daughter's team. The girl has a great disposition, and I remarked that she must be easy to work with. The dad replied: "She gets frustrated with me and doesn't like me to give her advice." We laughed, because other parents cite my daughter for a good disposition, but I go through the same issues. I will stick with my plan -- offer moral support, offer a listening ear, talking about the values of hard work and practice and listening.

2. I was talking to a friend who coaches a 10 year-old travel baseball team. He said that dealing with the parents was horrible, because not every kid can play infield or pitch. He has parents who complain that their kid should be an infielder when the kid can't make the plays in practice and excels in games in the outfield, both by catching balls and throwing runners out. He spends hours with certain parents. Yikes! We talked about how the parents need to be honest with themselves and their kids, that playing certain positions doesn't make them less worthy than the kids who play others, and that at some point you have to put the best players out there to give the team a chance to win and the kids an incentive to work hard so that they can bat high in the order and play the position of their choosing. If a kid plays a certain position because his dad lobbied the coach, is a coach, is friends with the coach, what have you, the players will sense it and the team won't achieve.

I shared a story with him that Dean Smith, the former Carolina basketball coach, told in one of his books, about how during his career about half a dozen players would come to him to insist that they should be starting. On each occasion, Coach Smith reviewed the starting lineup with the objecting player, asking if that player thought he should start over any of the starters. Each time, the player responded that he should not, thanked the coach for his candor, and offered that he needed to work harder to get more playing time. At some point, travel parents should shed the anxiety that Jethro might not get a full ride to Clemson and focus on the journey -- that if he works at it, he might get better, and then good things can happen. Unfortunately, there's too much anxiety.

3. Port-o-potties are pretty nasty on the second day of a two-day tournament.

4. It's fun to have your tournament located near a "Five Guys" burger joint. Okay, so you can't eat that stuff too frequently, but the burgers are awesome, the fries even better. The peanuts are free, the kids can bond, good stuff.

5. If you want to make money in a new business venture, start distributing all sorts of training aids and equipment to parents of travel sports kids, touting your stuff as the premier way to give the player a competitive advantage. I saw all sorts of nets, helmet caddies, sliding shorts, batting tees, composite bats, you name it. Trust me, if you can get an endorsement from some top-10 college coach, you'll rake it in.

6. If your kid's an infielder and not wearing a face mask, consider getting her one for travel softball. Why? Because if you're playing a good program and their kids are wearing them and your kids are not, you might be making a mistake. Most stop signs get put up after an accident; here, it's wise to have your kid wearing your mask during the game. The reason -- a) you don't want your pretty girl to have maxillofacial surgery for no reason, and b) there can be rocks and pebbles that blow onto the dirt infield, giving the field the ability to create a bad hop. Be sensible for now.

7. Coaches try to pull parlor tricks regarding the rules -- they'll send their runners early, try to influence play calls on the bases if an umpire is out of position and challenge the other team's pitcher's motion, even if it's legitimate. Why? Because they sense if they can get into the other team's pitcher's head, she'll crack. Big tough guys, huh? It's junk coaching, is what it is when that happens. Most of the coaches are stand up guys who are positive for the girls and teach them how to win, but on occasion, there are jokers or good coaches who lapse into bad behavior. Remember, umpires and coaches make mistakes.

8. Hell hath no fury like travel parents. We watched a 14U game a few weeks ago during a down time for our team, and a cadre of travel parents gathered down the right field line to cheer their kids on. Only problem was that they didn't like their coach, so they were catcalling him at every opportunity. Sheesh, as you can only imagine what gets said at the dinner table.

9. Many girls' teams are named after natural disasters or tropic storms. We've seen the Tornadoes, Hurricanes, Storm, Tsunami, Nightmare, and, yes, the Witches, Luna Chicks and Psycho Chicks. Just observing.

10. The girls who play fast pitch accessorize. They use pre-wrap to wrap their hair (as you can find multi-colored pre-wrap on-line), and they do their nails, although usually this is an individual effort that tends to represent the individual's favorite colors and not team colors.

11. Parents of pitchers are very protective of their daughters, sometimes forgetting that they play on a team. Look, pitching is huge in fastpitch, and if you look the pitcher's parent is a coach, sometimes the head coach. It makes sense -- because pitching in fastpitch requires a huge commitment.

12. Make sure your kids have the right equipment. My daughter's team's catchers were injuring their thumbs because they didn't have the right glove. They got a new one, and in the past tournament they came through uninjured.

13. The best coaches communicate well not only with the kids but with the parents -- about what the team is working on, what the team needs to improve, privately what the individual player needs to work on, all the while being a good combination of challenging and supportive. I am convinced that at the 12U level, among others, psychology plays a big part in getting the kids to achieve more than they think they can. I just haven't patented a theory as to go about doing just that.

14. Bats are key. I didn't know that there are specialty bat companies named Anderson, DeMarini and Miken, where the average bat costs as much as many dinners out with the family. They are "composite" bats, help the good hitters, etc. Moreover, players are protective of their bats and don't like to share, at least many of them. I was pleased to see that my daughter let a teammate borrow her bat yesterday -- that's a good sign of leadership and coming together. But heck, it's not an inexpensive game to play.

15. Discussing games and strategy and which local programs do what is both seductive, intoxicating and addictive. Sometimes it's fun, but remember that we all have other things to do, and if you don't have every kid in such a program, you have to spend time with him or her, too.


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