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 The Ball Has A Voice
(1/18/2019)
 
 
   

The Ball Has a Voice. Listen to it.


FUNdamental Skills
By Darren Fenster


Every Spring Training as Red Sox players and staff descend upon Fort Myers like we will here again in a few weeks, there is usually one of two specific points of emphasis that will largely become the theme of camp that year.  Generally speaking, that focal point is determined based on something that our system as a whole might not have done well in the previous season or something that the Major League staff wants us to get better at as players get called up.  One year it was getting our infielders locked in on the tiny details of their position with things like where to setup on the base for tag plays or making sure they were lined up and out far enough for cutoffs and relays from the outfield.  Another spring stressed to our baserunners anticipation on balls in the dirt when on base to be in a better position to advance, while to start a different camp, our attention was placed on backing up bases and plays.

A few years ago, our emphasis was placed on aggressiveness to get the lead out on our bunt defense.  We wanted our pitchers to dart off the mound to be ready to make a play at 3rd.  We wanted our infielders to cheat, creep, and crash on top of the hitter in order to get what could be a key out in a key spot in the game.  And we instructed our catchers to take charge and direct traffic loud and clear.  Emphatically, that year we simply hammered the point to our players to give themselves a chance to get the lead out when a bunt is put down, and if that lead out wasn’t there, then we’ll just handle the ball cleanly to take the out the opposing team is giving us at 1st base.

When we first practice our bunt defense- or any other team fundamental for that matter- on the back fields at Fenway South, we do so with no baserunners in a very controlled environment, making sure everyone is where they are supposed to be on the diamond.  In many ways, it’s very much like an NFL team doing its walk-thru on a Saturday without any defense in preparation for their game on Sunday.  We then roll bunts at varying speeds at varying spots to give everyone on the field different looks as they will likely see over the course of the long season.  With the emphasis on being aggressive towards the lead out, the first few rolled bunts were sure-fire plays to 3rd; hard pace, right at one of our fielders in a position to make the play we were looking for, all with the catcher yelling, “THREE! THREE! THREE!”  The next few reps were what we would consider tweener sacs, bunts that our defense would have to execute to perfection in order to even have a chance at the lead runner.  Again, with our attention on aggressiveness, every single tweener bunt went to 3rd base.

We then move on to the well-placed sac; that bunt when laid down in the perfect spot at a perfect speed, where it is near impossible to get the lead out, and just as challenging to get the batter at 1st.  Well, that first rep went to 3rd base.  Our staff spread around the field then instructed that the play should have gone for the sure out at 1st.  The next rep went to 3rd.  As did the one after that.  And the one after that.  At this point I realize what we had done:  with our constant stressing of aggressively going after the lead out, we had taken a group of what was, at the time, relatively inexperienced A-ball professional baseball players, and created bunt defense robots.

Stopping the drill right then and there, we gathered as a group on the mound to address this issue.

“Guys… we have to listen to the ball,” I started.  “The ball has a voice and it will tell you what to do with it.  We want that out at third, but sometimes it just might not be there.  So, stop memorizing the game, let the play develop, and make our decisions accordingly.”

The more they learned how to “listen to the ball,” the more they were able to slow things down and trust their eyes, as their decisions got better and better.  This mode of thinking the game doesn’t just apply to bunt defense; it can and should additionally be implemented with baserunning (the ball will tell you when to go 1st to 3rd, when to go back to tag, etc.) and defense (where to throw the ball from the outfield with a runner advancing, when to create a short hop by coming in or a long hop by going back in the infield).  When players can constantly look at the ball and ask themselves what is it saying to them, they will begin to see the game in a different, clearer light.

The idea of listening to the ball also can aid in individual player development.  Some of the best players in the world are likewise some of the most self-aware players in the world with an astute knowledge of who they are, what they do, and how they do it.  When a player can effectively become his own coach without the constant need for feedback from someone else, they put themselves in a great position to get better all the time, not just when a coach or teammate is watching.

Hitting and pitching are two facets of the game right now that have historically been incredibly mechanically driven.  Many players think internally, based on the feel of their swing or delivery.  Putting a focus externally on what the ball is doing can offer a different way for them to perfect those mechanics without necessarily thinking about them.  

For instance, when a hitter is working to improve his ability against velocity, they may initially think about shortening their swing to get the barrel to the ball. But if they instead listen to the ball, and see how everything is going to the opposite field or foul, they may very well then make an adjustment in their timing to make contact to the middle of the field, fixing an internal flaw by listening to what the ball is saying off of the bat.  A pitcher can use the same train of thought with regard to things like arm angle, release point, break, or command.  When they try to make the ball do something else, the mechanics have a chance to fall into place.

Baseball is very much a thinking man’s game , where two identical balls in play may require two completely different decisions based on the variables that come up over the course of nine innings per day, five-plus months of the year. While some decisions are no brainers, others require instincts and intellect just to have a chance at collecting an out, taking the extra base, or having a productive at bat.  Those decisions don’t have to be made alone; let the ball help you. That ball indeed has a voice.  Learn how to listen to it.

 



Darren Fenster is a contributor to the USA Baseball Sport Development Blog, and is currently the Manager of the Portland Sea Dogs, the Double-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox. A former player in the Kansas City Royals minor league system, Fenster joined the Red Sox organization in 2012 after filling various roles on the Rutgers University Baseball staff, where he was a two-time All-American for the Scarlet Knights. Fenster is also Founder and CEO of Coaching Your Kids, LLC, and can be found on Twitter @CoachYourKids.


 Accountable Sports Parents
(1/17/2019)
 
 
   

Accountable Sports Parents


The importance of accountable sports parents


Youth sports parents play many different roles: former (or current) athlete, coach, fan, motivator, role model, critic, and maybe most importantly, influencer.

Studies have shown that family members may influence an athlete’s involvement and achievement in sport even more than coaches. Parents also are the first and most critical determiners in whether or not children reap the social benefits of playing sports.

This is why it is so crucial that sports parents are aware and accountable for their actions, and how those influence their young athletes.

Accounting for Your Attitude

Parental encouragement is significantly related to a child’s attraction to and competence in playing sports. Parents who provide positive encouragement instill a greater sense of enjoyment, ability, and motivation in their child.

Research done by Windee M. Weiss, Ph.D. of the University of Northern Iowa emphasizes the importance of parents staying accountable for and modeling good behavior, and helping their children interpret their sport experiences. Parents are critical in helping their child develop coping strategies to deal not only with competition, but also with losing. Children’s perceptions of their parents’ interest in their playing sport also predict their lasting involvement in sport.

Studies done by the University of Minnesota’s Diane Wiese-Bjornstal found that the way girls perceive their parents’ assessment of their abilities predict their likelihood of playing and staying in sport. That is, if their parents do not have confidence in their abilities, neither will they.

And dads, are you listening? Studies have found that fathers hold more influence – both positive and negative – over their daughter’s sport competence and values than mothers do. However, mothers are more likely to first enroll their daughters in sport and then continue encouragement by providing transportation, uniforms, moral support, and snacks.

Being Responsible for Their Readiness

There is some good news to report from yet another study on the topic. Researchers from Yale University, the University of Texas at Austin, and the University of Michigan suggest that children participate in organized activities, such as sport, because they want to, not because their parents make them.

But parents still need to consider whether a child is mentally, emotionally, socially, and physically mature enough to participate in sport. Readiness for a sport is just as important as readiness for school. And, like schooling, younger children need more positive direction at first, until they begin to develop and master the sport.

Pros and Cons for Parents

Parents also benefit from their child’s participation in sport. Research from Wiersma and Fifer found that their positive experiences include watching their child learn new skills and having the opportunity to interact with other parents.

On the negative side, parents who lose accountability for their lofty expectations and put too many demands on their young athletes before, during, and after competition can create stress that can destroy their child’s enjoyment of sport. Research by Bois et al., Power and Woolger, and Van Yperen has shown that negative parental support and pressure can result in competitive anxiety, interpersonal difficulties among teammates, and even quitting. Conversely, lower parental pressure has been found to be associated with children enjoying their sport more.

An overemphasis on extrinsic goals (winning, trophies, status) by parents can negate focusing on intrinsic goals, through which the child gains enjoyment from playing, mastering skills, and improving their game. Coaches also report that children’s sport performance is affected by the presence of parents. Additionally, parents lacking self-awareness and accountability for their actions are most likely to create conflict for coaches during the critical time that their child is improving mastery and transferring their trust in authority from the parent to the coach.

LaVoi and Stellino research found that the children of parents who create anxiety about failing and emphasize winning are more likely to engage in poor sport behaviors than children whose parents encourage enjoyment and self-mastery. Another study from Guivernau and Duda showed how athletes’ perceptions of their parents’ approval regarding cheating and aggression shape their own views about appropriate sport behavior. When youth athletes feel that their parents are supportive, positive, and emphasize mastery and enjoyment, they are more likely to display concern for opponents and grace in losing. They also are less likely to trash talk or whine and complain about the coach or their playing time.

Accountability from parents for their actions and attitudes effects much more than just their athletes’ level of effort on the field. It also impacts their mindset, mood, and motivation to continue on playing sports at all, as well as their trust in their coach and authority in general.

Creating accountable youth athletes and young adults starts at home, with parents taking responsibility for their actions first before demanding that their athletes do the same.

This was originally published in True Sport: What We Stand to Lose in Our Obsession to Win (p. 58-60)

References:

Bois JE, Lalanne J, Delforge C. The influence of parenting practices and parental presence on children’s and adolescents’ pre-competitive anxiety. J Sports Sci. 2009; 27(10):995-1005.

Brustad RJ. Affective outcomes in competitive youth sport: the influence of intrapersonal and socialization factors. J Sport Exerc Psychol. 1988; 10(3):307-321.

Brustad RJ. Who will go out and play? Parental and psychological influences on children’s attraction to physical activity. Pediatr Exerc Sci. 1993; 5(3):210-233.

Brustad RJ, Partridge JA. Parental and peer influence on children’s psychological development through sport. In: Smoll FL, Smith RE, eds. Children and Youth in Sport: A Biopsychosocial Approach. 2nd ed. Dubuque, IA: Kendall/Hunt Publishing; 2002:187-210.

Davison KK, Earnest MB, Birch LL. Participation in aesthetic sports and girls’ weight concerns at ages 5 and 7 years. Int J Eat Disord. 2002; 31(3):312-317.

Donohue B, Miller A, Crammer L, Cross C, Covassin T. A standardized method of assessing sport specific problems in the relationships of athletes with their coaches, teammates, family, and peers. J Sport Behav. 2007; 30(4):375-397.

Fredricks JA, Eccles, JS. Children’s competence and value beliefs from childhood through adolescence: growth trajectories in two male-sex-typed domains. Dev Psychol. 2002; 38:519-533.

Greendorfer SL, Lewko JH, Rosengren KS. Family influence in sport socialization: sociocultural perspectives. In: Smoll and Smith R, eds. Children and Youth in Sport. Dubuque, IA: Brown and Benchmark; 1996: 89-111.

Guivernau M, Duda JL. Moral atmosphere and athletic aggressive tendencies in young soccer players. J Moral Educ. 2002; 31(1):67-85.

Holt NL, Tamminen KA, Black DE, Mandigo JL, Fox KR. Youth sport parenting styles and practices. J Sport Exerc Psychol. 2009; 31(1):37-59. 157.

Lafferty ME, Dorrell K. Coping strategies and the influence of perceived parental support in junior national age swimmers. J Sports Sci. 2006; 24(3):253-259.

LaVoi NM, Stellino MB. The relation between perceived parent-created sport climate and competitive male youth hockey players’ good and poor sport behaviors. J Psychol. 2008; 142(5):471-495.

Mahoney JL, Larson RW, Eccles JS, eds. Organized Activities as Contexts of Development: Extracurricular Activities, After-School and Community Programs. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum; 2005.

McLean K. Dealing with parents: promoting dialogue. Sports Coach. 2007; 30(1):12-13.

Power TG, Woolger C. Parenting practices and age-group swimming: a correlational study. Res Q Exerc Sport. 1994; 65(1):59-66.

Van Yperen NW. Interpersonal stress, performance level, and parental support: a longitudinal study among highly skilled young soccer players. Sport Psychol. 1995; 9:225-241.

Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport. The 2007 Tucker Center Research Report: Developing Physically Active Girls: An Evidence-Based Multidisciplinary Approach. Minneapolis, MN: Author; 2007.
http://www.tuckercenter.org/projects/tcrr/default.html.

Weiss WM. Coaching your parents: support vs. pressure. Technique. 2008; 28(10):18-22.

Wiersma LD, Fifer AM. It’s our turn to speak: the joys, challenges, and recommendations of youth sport parents. J Sport Exerc Psychol. 2007; (suppl 29):S213.

Woolger C, Power TG. Parent and sport socialization: views from the achievement literature. J Sport Behav. 1993; 16(3):171-189.



TrueSport®, a movement powered by the experience and values of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, champions the positive values and life lessons learned through youth sport. TrueSport® inspires athletes, coaches, parents, and administrators to change the culture of youth sport through active engagement and thoughtful curriculum based on cornerstone lessons of sportsmanship, character-building, and clean and healthy performance, by creating leaders across communities through sport.


 Being a Good Teammate
(1/16/2019)
 
 
   

Being a Good Teammate


Cuddyer's Corner
By Michael Cuddyer


Former Major Leaguer Michael Cuddyer discuss the benefits of being a good teammate for your teammates and yourself. To have your questions answered by Michael Cuddyer, submit them using #USABMailbag on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter.


Michael Cuddyer is a contributor to the USA Baseball Sport Development blog, and is a 15-year MLB veteran and two-time All-Star, spending his career playing for the Minnesota Twins, Colorado Rockies and the New York Mets. A member of the USA Baseball 18U National Team in 1996 and 1997, Cuddyer was then named the 1997 Virginia Player of the Year, Gatorade National Player of the Year, and was a member of USA Today’s All-Star team. He was selected ninth overall in the 1997 MLB Amateur Player Draft by the Minnesota Twins.


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