T H E 6 T H F L O O R

Life in 6 Land

T H E  6 T H  F L O O R - Life in 6 Land

Coaching to Lose

just_for_kidsThe AA Braves of East County Little League can’t seem to buy a break, but were taught an invaluable lesson last night, as they came from ahead to lose the game. As manager, my decisions probably lead the collapse we saw on the mound and in our defensive play. While I didn’t plan on coaching to lose, results saw the team come up short. Thankfully the coaches supported the decisions that were made and we accepted the outcome. After the boys got their snack they forgot about many of the details until our post game talk in right field.

Never will I single out a ballplayer as the cause for a loss, to do so would be irresponsible on my part. My role as manager is to always be positive and respect each child as an individual while teaching the the fundamentals of the game. At times its been frustrating observing the players “perform” the fundamentals of baseball during a game; bad throws, poor field positioning, dropping the ball, not paying attention. These are common place in little league. As I have stressed from the beginning, you are a part of a team. We win as a team and we lose as a team, each player has a role they play.

My approach to the game has not changed from opening day, I play and rotate the boys based on equal playing time to all players. While some parents and coaches might have an issue with this, it has not been brought to my attention through 8 games. I don’t favor my strong players every inning of every game and by no means do I intentionally play anyone the minimum of 2 innings and 1 at-bat. That screams incompetence of a coach who is just there to win, regardless of the kids.

If the decision was made to stick with our ace pitchers yesterday, chances were great we would have won the game, but would have been short on pitching come Monday. This also left of a run behind at the end of the 5th inning, when the game was called due to time limit resulting in another loss, but just how much does a loss or win really matter in little league? I do however, believe the boys were taught an important lesson during the game.

From the first inning we jumped out to a 5 run lead, the kids were excited, hustling up to the plate, running the bases well and playing good defense. Everything seemed to be going our and way and as more runs crossed the plate, I was continually asked the score. My response stayed consistent the entire game, “I don’t know the score, as it’s not important, hitting and playing defense is important.” The boys were were all smiles as our lead grew over the Red Sox to the point of goofing off in the dugout when we were at bat.

Their focus was lost, the “fun” had resulted in a few strike outs and two outstanding defensive gems from the opposing team that seemed to smack out team back to reality. Our best player hit the hardest ball of the year a line drive, which was snared by the shortstop, he couldn’t have been but 2-3 steps out of the batter’s box as he came back to the dugout in tears. As I made my way to him, I put my arm around him and inquired what was wrong? He believed the shortstop had not caught the ball and he was wrongly called out. Not sure if my words were convincing, but by heart was in the right place. Yet after our talk, with his father standing on the other side of the dugout, he seemed to have a different swagger when he took the field next inning.

The collapse of our team was complete by the 4th inning. By that time I had banned any further eating of sunflower seeds in the dugout and put an end to the grab ass (aka fun) that was going on in the dug out. Complacency had overcome our team and it was showing on the field. We were able to take the leading, but lack of focus and being prepared when the ball was hit led us giving up the lead and eventually losing in the 5th inning when the Red Sox scored their last run after 3 throwing errors on the same play.

In the words of Vincent Fortanasce, M.D., “These children are not professional ballplayers and Little League is not about winning baseball game. Little League is about fun and growth and learning life’s important lessons.” We were taught what happens can happen when we lose focus and get complacent in a game. It was a tough lesson to learn, as the jubilation and excitement on the team was priceless.

As I explained to them in my post game talk, we were pleased with how they played, we hit the ball well, score runs and made some great plays in the field, unfortunately we had made some mistakes. One of the coaches expanded on this asking each player, “What mistake did you make?” It was interesting to see hands go up and hear some of their responses. A few players had no answer, but no one said, “I didn’t do anything wrong.” I continued to stress learning baseball at this age is more important than winning. I highlighted our positives and said we would continue to work on areas which need improvement.

While I feel bad for the boys, who nearly earned their first victory of the season, they continue to grow and make improvements in their game. With continued coaching, drills and positive reinforcement and encouragement the players will continue to improve.

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210 Days Until…

halloween-hauntLast year was the first year I organized The 6th Fright Halloween haunt at my son’s elementary school. Previously I had only helped out building and running the haunt, but decided to take on the responsibility after hearing there would be no haunt for the kids if it wasn’t build last year. What is a Harvest Carnival without a haunted house? It would have not been the same sort of carnival and I think many kids would have been let down.

It’s only the start of April, but not too early to start revising the layout I drew up after last year’s haunted house and begin building props to fill the haunt. The goal for 2014, make it better and scarier (Ms. Chadd really loves to be scared). The most important part of any haunt (after safety, of course) is the layout, which I have been working on since October. While the haunt won’t be as long, it could potentially be more involved this year with better use of space and props. Yet for any haunt to be successful requires volunteers. Unfortunately, beyond the PTA board members, volunteers are few and far between. Although I have been recruiting a few dads I know to give me some of their time come August and September, in order to be ready for October.

Learning from last year, preparation is key, something Mark and I lacked last year, as was evident by the amount of time and work during the days leading up to the Friday haunt. Still, everyone who walked the haunt enjoyed it, in my opinion it was the best one I had seen in 3 years, taking nothing away from the people who came before me and provided their time and effort in order to put smiles on the faces of people who went through the haunted house.

I won’t give much away too much at this early point, as I know there are friends who favor Facebook and I want many of the haunts to be just that, haunting to those who walk The 6th Fright. I will say I am bringing back one room from last year, but everything else for the 2014 haunt will be new.

A change for this year will be including some plywood walls in a few areas of the haunt because PVC and viqsueen won’t handle the load or stress planned on those areas. Unlike last year, I don’t expect to spend 2 weeks building the layout and hanging visqueen, something that should be able to be accomplished in a week. While I have haven’t started laying out any PVC at this point, I will be building each section in my front yard in order to decrease the build time when we are allowed to access the stage, which should be in early October.

Props, given enough time, anything can be built. I am already looking at a handful of props that are pennies on the dollar compared to their retail counterparts at retail establishments like Party City and Spirit. Thanks to input and suggestions from the Halloween Forum, I have been spending time watching videos on different props and ideas for The 6th Fright. In addition to the haunt itself, my neighbor just replaced his backyard fence, I was lucky enough to score about 50 feet of weather planks, which will be turned into a facade for the entrance.

I know we have approximately 7 months until the school’s harvest carnival, but it’s not too early to start. I continue to talk up the haunt when at PTA meetings, knowing full well we need to finish out this school year and the events the school is hosting. Still the advanced planning will improve this haunt for 2014. With any luck it will be better documented than last year.

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Undefeated in Fun

lifelessons_After early setbacks, some frustration and numerous emails to “Big Al” Price of Big Al Baseball, I stumbled across another resource while searching the Internet, the book Life Lessons From Little League by Vincent M. Fortanasce, M.D. I believe in the philosophy of Big Al when it comes to teaching youngsters the game of baseball. As with each new season, expectations run high, from players and parents to coaches, who practice consistency to get ready for the start of the season. Yesterday we continued our streak of being undefeated in fun.

While our 0-6 record doesn’t reflect how well the boys on the East County Little League AA Braves have been playing, the coaching staff still believes that practice and positive reinforcement will yield results. Those results might not include a victory during the 18 game season, but when it comes to the fun, these boys know no boundaries. In the end, isn’t that was little league is all about? As a kid, you won’t remember when you struck out 3 times, but you might remember your coaches or teammates you shared the season with.

Those individuals not affiliated with the Braves or ECLL, have lived vicariously through our winless stretch, but the season is far from over and in my eyes not lost. Thankfully we have 15 games in which to improve, as we are the #1 seed when the playoffs starts, a fact I have not mentioned to the team. Frustration has crept in at times during games, especially knowing how well the boys practice during the week. They are a hitting machine, all 12 of them but when game time rolls around you would think they are swinging a wet noodle. On defense their gloves seem to disappear and we look more like the Bad News Bears.

Their performance during games has the coaching staff baffled, questioning our practice structure and leaves us asking each other, “What else do we do?” From the pages of Big Al Baseball, stress repetition in order to gain confidence and consistency at bat or in the field. Another factor Big Al promotes, keep practice fun and positive. We have been able to turn many of the drills into a competition for the boys, seeing who can accumulate the most points. We have also played a game called Bubba Baseball using an over-sized plastic bat and pickle ball in order to promote fun, at the same time teaching strategy and the basics of baseball.

Yesterday was a feelgood day, even though we lost, again playing only three and a half innings with the game being called because of the 10-run rule, but I ran into a parent while hanging out at the snack shack. She doesn’t have a son that I manage, but she talked to a player on my team. When she inquired, “how’d you guys do today” the player responded, “we lost again.” She countered with, “wish you were playing on the Dodgers and winning?” To my surprise he said, “no I am having fun with my team.” As a manager that made my heart swell and I felt like I was on cloud nine for a moment! To hear that coming from a player is reward enough that we are not only teach players the basics of baseball, but more importantly keeping it fun.

Kids have enough stress on them, even at 8 and 9 years old. Why add to that stress level by yelling and criticizing their performance, acts which could inevitably turns kids off from continue to play little league. I have Big Al to thank for the basics of managing and coaching young kids. I stumbled across another resource while searching the Internet last week, the book Life Lessons From Little League by Vincent M. Fortanasce, which has provided me a very positive outlook on managing kids and controlling parents while their son learns baseball. The book has had a very positive influence on me in under a week since I started reading.

On Friday I had an assistant coach saying, “I don’t know how you stay to calm and positive through this.” The last 2 games have been different than the first 4 games. In order to build a player, you need to instill courage, character and loyalty, which is the motto of Little League. I want to keep a positive attitude towards all the players, all the time, even if the result is something negative, such as an error in the field or striking out. Tearing a child down with negativity or criticism has no place on my team. Positive reinforcement and keeping the game fun will have players trying harder.

The way I see it still, we have another 13 games in order to improve offensively and defensively. Sure we have seen 5 out of 6 games ended early because of the 10-run rule, but there is no reason why we can’t compete with any of the teams we have played in our division. As long as we continue to practice and improve I have no doubts we could win the playoffs. Our boys might not be the biggest, fastest, best kids in the league, but they are all playing with a big heart. All of them have improved their skills since we started practice in February. We have seen flashes of what they can do. Winning isn’t everything or the only thing, nor does winning breed success. The fundamental of little league is to stay positive against all odds and have fun.

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Heathy Kids

4basicsHealthy eating shouldn’t be a consideration, but something we do every day without thinking about it. Every night I ask my son what he wants for dinner. The same question is posed to me wife, occasionally the answers are the same, “I don’t know.” “What do we have?” “I don’t care.” I am sure many mothers and wives can relate to these answers. Yet if I take their responses and cook something I want, I’d probably be the only one eating dinner.

At work last week, the topic of cooking came up in the office and someone said, “who has time to cook?” Of course I took that opportunity and chimed in, promptly being told, “yea but nobody like to eat what you cook.” That was like a dagger in my back. No one likes what I cook. Hmm. So I have been mulling that comment over the past few days, wondering how I turn that negative into a positive and possibly help my son make a transition to a healthy lifestyle. In fact it’s not difficult at all.

My wife must make her own decisions when it comes the foods she eats. I tried, pushed too hard and in some respect failed to accomplish the goal of making her plant based. I continue to hold out hope she sees and feels the benefits. While failure may be too strong of a term I went about it the wrong way. Unlike many wives who say, “I do the cooking and my husband will eat what I cook or not eat at all” or a comment that insinuates the husband doesn’t cook. Thankfully my wife can cook, very well when she does, even if I don’t favor her cooking now being plant based.

My son is 8 years old,  growing, gain weight and getting taller but my wife has a concern he is on the road to obesity. Many of his friends, it could be said would be right there with him, but that’s the last thing I want for any of these kids. The responsibility now resides on my shoulders to clean up my son’s terrible eating habits, which I am a contributing factor. I have spent the last few days reading web sites and wondering how I approach the “healthy alternative” so that my son can make a transition to a healthier lifestyle.

This question was posed on the Facebook group, Protective Diet Living. Actually my post was one in a series of posts discussing kids. I wrote,

As a parent I play a role in the development of my son (now 8) as he grows. My wife has voiced concerned over his weight. I would not consider him fat by any stretch, but knowing what I went through growing up, carrying a bit of a belly, being self conscious with no shirt on, I want my son to have a better chance at health, earlier than I did. I have been racking my brain the past 2 days and I know I have a strong basis in what I need to eat. I have a list of recipes that share basic ingredients I know he favors. I just need help making a transition for him. How do I do it? Full blown like I did? A little at a time? Do I make the meals more fun with presentation? Get him involved in the cooking? Just need a shift kick in the butt to get going. I know many of you will have some wonderful suggestions. Thanks!

Many basic staples of a plant based lifestyle are foods not uncommon in today’s diet. Foods such as potatoes, veggies, grains, including rice and legumes. Okay, so the Paleo community would disagree when it comes to staples, but they are a topic for another post. My son eats more vegetables at age 8 than I think I ate up into my early teens, so he has a good start. Unfortunately like many kids his age crap rules his diet. Those time saving frozen and processed foods are far too easy to heat up and serve, but what I am actually doing to my child?

Julie Marie Christensen, the force behind Protective Diet wrote a piece discussing parents, asking, “Many people who practice a vegan or plant based diet for health consider knowingly feeding your children foods that contribute to cancer, heart disease, diabetes and obesity a form of child abuse. What are your thoughts or excuses for bringing these life threatening foods into you home after you know the facts?” I have no excuse, I am guilty of contributing to his poor health choices, knowing the damaging results this could have on his life. I struggle everyday to make better, healthier choices for him since I have control over what he eats.

The responses to that and a few other comments seemed to share a similar theme. While I don’t consider it child abuse, the health problems associated with a diet high in sodium, sugar and processed foods only leads to bigger problems as kids grow older. I am living proof and I will consider myself lucky I was able to rescue myself and turn around my health. I believe in what I eat and how I prepare it, I also want what is best for my son (and wife), but I don’t want to continue contributing to a poor diet that had adverse effects on our health.

Some of the suggestions I received were great and provided me some ideas on how to move forward. Most important, keep food fun. A day doesn’t go by that my wife doesn’t stress this when I am dealing with my fun. Turn tasks into a game or competition. Include my son in more of the shopping, selection and preparation of foods. What better way to learn mathematics than in the kitchen by measuring! We could easily kill homework and dinner while cooking together.

While he might be too young to understand the science behind my decision to change my lifestyle, I do stress how healthy I am now, as compared to just a few years ago. No longer do I suffer from aches and pains or rely on a handful of pills daily to make it through. He does however have some basic concepts of why I eat a plant based diet, but is continually inquiring about eating meat. I do feel changes can be made moving forward.

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charlie-brownJust over a week ago I posted about Crying in Baseball, after a touching sequence of events during a ball game. Since that time we had a practice and game scheduled as the little league season continues to roll along. Many of those feelings I had last week are turning to frustration. The kid in question has missed the last practice and game and I feel some responsibility to the mother after our discussion, but she’s failing her son. I have notified the league and if safety continues to be a factor, the kid will feel the repercussions in order to avoid injury to himself.

Last night I knew there would be some trouble fielding a team for our fifth game. I knew of three players out of town on vacation, since it’s Spring Break for the schools. I planned to be without my problem child, but did figure a lineup IF he actually decided to show. Sadly, I know it’s not his responsibility, but that of his mother who has yet to call me, is usually late, rarely responds to email and never seems to have information I have sent regarding the season. That left one player in question for our game last night who missed Thursday practice. Even had one family even returned early from their vacation just so their son could play, which I thought was wonderful.

With game time approaching I called this boy’s mother and received her voice mail and left a message. In addition I also sent a text message. About 10 minutes later I get a call and was told he won’t be at the game tonight, as she forgot about the game. At that point I told the umpires I could not field a team. and am not sure if the game will be rescheduled or if it’s a forfeit. Regardless the boys who showed up were bummed out, parents frustrated, especially the parent who had returned early from vacation. I and the coaching staff had no answers for the boys, which was unacceptable. We have a responsibility to the boys, yet can’t speak for the, “I forgot about the game” or a parent who fails their child during the season using baseball as a babysitter during the week.

Frustration has begun to creep into my game plan as an unintended consequence as to how the season has played out to date. The entire staff continues to keep their heads up and provide positive reinforcement when practicing and playing, but there might come a time where we must sacrifice a bit of fun for a stricter learning environment. Sure we are teaching baseball, but some of the same skills in learning on a ball field are the same skills used in school or at home. Listening is key. This probably tops that list right now, as many of the basics we have taught the past 6 weeks seem to be lost on the team.

After an inning ended last night, an assistant coach gathered the kids as they came off the field. He told everyone to stand on one leg, then told them to hop on leg. Every player LISTENED and followed the coach’s directions. He then asked, “why don’t you listen when you are on the field?” The kids were lost for an answer, except for one who answered. The root of our losing (which isn’t the primary focus for me in this league) are their listening skills. All the teaching and experience of the coaches will fall by the way if player’s want to grab ass and talk to their buddy instead of listening to what we are trying to teach. That has been the case for much of the season and we continue to stress listening at every practice.

Without listening, the basics of fielding a ground ball, throwing properly and swinging the bat are lost on all the boys. That might be a harsh statement, but even my top players look lost at bat and in the field at times, even though their skills continue to shine. Strategy and where to go with the ball is being taught, yet and empty look fills the player’s face when coaches are yelling for them to throw the ball. The coaching staff is without answers, as the team doesn’t play they way they practice.

Though 5 games maybe it’s time to reevaluate my managing approach and be harder on the kids, which is something I don’t want to do. Although it seems to be commonplace by a majority of the other teams. The last thing I want to do is get frustrated and start taking it out on the boys as punishment for failure to comprehend or demonstrate the basics of baseball as we are teaching it. Winning isn’t the goal, developing the player and the person is, but without listening they fail to hear what we are attempting to teach.

A Google search brought me to Amazon and a book by Vincent Fortanasce called Life Lessons From Little League. Described as, “an all-star guide for Little Leaque parents and coaches who want to teach their children to become not only good players, but also good sports.” The book received only a handful of reviews, but 5 out of 5 stars, at $4.48 on Ebay I couldn’t pass it up. Maybe this will push me past the frustration and I will be able to relate, interact and understand better when working with children. I am looking forward to these lessons, in hopes it makes me a better coach and better parent as it relates to kids and sports.

With all the struggle, we know there will come a breakout period, when that will happen no one knows. I suspect it will be big when it does occur and it will be contagious and the team not only will experience the fun and thrill of baseball but earn a victory. At the end of every game this season the dugout is full of smiles as the players pick up their after game snack, regardless of the score the game, as we are teaching is fun.

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