Scouting

Bsalogo1For some strange reason I feel I don’t have enough on my plate, so I am taking on another challenge. Actually in support of my son, we are getting involved in scouting. At age 8 I joined the Cub Scouts (Pack 618) and was involved for a few years before sports truly became my love. Scouting fell by the wayside. My wife and I have have discussed scouting with Zachary the last year or so. I showed him the Pinewood Derby cars, which seemingly a hit with all the kids. While stapling papers in his classroom a few weeks back I saw a flyer or handout to join.

My wife and I had discussed scouting last year, but decided not to join the local pack. Upon meeting Todd and Mike at Baskin Robbins last week, there was a very good feeling about this pack. Todd was very informative about the opportunities for Zachary and for myself. I mentioned I would like to volunteer to help as well. I took the application and filled it out, search the pack website and read up a little bit on scouting, as I didn’t go very far with it as a youth.

We joined the last pack meeting on the year earlier in the week. I met Todd and Mike again and Zachary was partnered with a group of boys moving into the 3rd grade. We listened for about 45 minutes, as scouts were awarded achievements  and a scouting leader received an award. All the boys had a chance to make and fly their own paper airplane, as a few dens performed some skits. As the meeting drew to a close, the parent meeting started. Much of what Todd discussed was mentioned to me the previous week.

I was excited to find out I will have the pick of my position in scouting. As I said, I don’t have enough to do, so I offered to volunteer my time. I have choices of being the quartermaster of the pack secretary. Right now I am leaning towards managing all the equipment for the pack. Regardless of what capacity I work in, I am looking forward to making new friends and being more involved with my son. Hopefully scouting takes him further than it took me.

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Fun in Little League

ReferEase-Sports-quoteAt no point during this Little League season have I regretted my decision to manage the AA Braves in East County Little League. From the first preseason meeting to our current 0-13 record, the season has been fun, teaching young players the fundamentals of the game and watching them execute what they have learned. Unfortunately, I have an unsettled feel that has been with me since the first game of the season. I have confidence in how I approached the season, planned our practice schedule, and implemented a fair play, 6-3-3 system for our players to follow, regardless of skill level.

Little League is about having fun, which is what the AA Braves have had all season long. Many will point to our win less record and draw their own conclusions about our players and team being a failure, yet that could not be further from the truth. The coaching staff has worked relentlessly to teach our players the fundamentals of baseball. By the end of the season, each boy who put on a Braves cap at the start of the season will be a better baseball player.

There has been elation, frustration and disappointment throughout the year, but at no point did we lose focus on what is important, our boys. In the true spirit of baseball, the coaching staff has remained positive, keeping a good attitude towards the other coaches, players and umpires. We continue to stress the fundamentals of baseball. Winning isn’t everything. Last week I related a story last week to my players. I told them, “I don’t remember won many games I won or lost in Little League, nor do I remember any final scores. However I do remember some personal highlights; a good play, a home run, some all-star teams I was on. What sticks with me the most after 35 years, the coaches I played for and learned from. I feel these coaches taught me to be a better ballplayer I was from Little League to high school and even into college, but more importantly they taught me to be a better person.” Not sure the boys see it now, but hopefully they remember their coaches when they are older.

I have been rather appalled at some other managers and coaches and their approach to the game. It can be summed up in a single word. Competitive. At ages 8 and 9 years old, I feel there is too much competition in the AA division we play in. Maybe this makes me “soft” as a manager and doesn’t put my players in a position to win. If that’s the case, so be it. Thankfully playoff positions were handed out prior to the start of the season or the competition would even be more fierce.

It’s unfortunate that some of the fun, in my opinion is being lost because of the drive and desire to win meaningless baseball games. Winning by 10 or more runs seems to put an exclamation mark on the victory for the winning team. I, on the other have have been on the opposite end of those 10-run rule loses most every game this season and take responsibility for how our team played. Nothing worse in Little League than not being able to play all 6 innings, calling the boys in after the umpire calls the game and the boys have a puzzled look on their face. Worse yet having a few players who were only put into their position half an inning ago and haven’t experienced an at-bat.

More frustrating, the fact managers and coaches take advantage of the rules for their benefit. The worst offending, taking second base on a walk. The catcher throws the ball back to the pitcher, walking back to the mound, the batter rounds first and doesn’t stop. Worst yet, issuing a walk and 2 pitches later the previous batter is now standing on third base. One passed ball later, they are adding another point to their score. Honestly, you can’t even call this stealing since 99% of the catchers in AA don’t have the arm to make the throw to second base. This “stealing” doesn’t teach players how to steal a base, nor does it teach you proper base running. Even if the ball is caught by the catcher, it still requires a perfect throw and catch just to have a chance at making an out. Yet managers and coaches are playing by the rules, which I feel are flawed and ruin the fun at this age level.

Implementing a fair play system for all players on my team took priority before the season began. Regardless of their skill level, I wanted to make sure each player had the opportunity to hone their skills at numerous positions. Some of my players would probably never see more than 2 innings in right field and their one at bat if on another team. What does that teach a player? Would they return next year? How does that player improve and gain game experience? They don’t. At this age, players need to field numerous positions to get their experience and find out where they play the best. As a parent I would be livid if I paid for registration, new cleats, glove and bat only to see him play 36 innings and get 18 at-bats in a season. That is borderline neglect by a manager and should NEVER happen in Little League.

For some parents I have failed as a manager this year, going win less through 13 games. That’s fine, at 13 games in, not one parent has approached me saying they are unhappy with their son’s playing time. I take that positively meaning I have done part of my job as a manager, providing equaling playing time to all my players. Sure we haven’t won, but as I said there is more to life (and baseball) than winning. I feel we have taught these boys some great baseball skills and each have improved their fundamentals. Most importantly we have had fun all season long. Isn’t that the sort of coach you want teaching your son?

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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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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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