Ahead in the Count

One and Done

written by Ted Sullivan

This is my third and final post about my downtown Manhattan little league team. The first post discussed a series of conflicts I had in my head after a tough opening day loss. The second was an update written ten days later about a coach’s greatest pleasure.

We had a great regular season, finishing 11-3 and clinching first place and the first seed in the playoffs. More importantly, the kids improved tremendously, all learned to be great teammates, and I believe they all had positive baseball experiences.

But yesterday our season ended prematurely. After a bye in the first round of the single-elimination playoffs we were knocked out by the 4th place team who we had beaten all three times we played them this season. But they played flawlessly and deserved to win. There were several tear-covered cheeks in the post game meeting as all of the kids were sad we lost — but most of all I believe they were sad to have such a fun season come to an end. This morning I sent the following email to the parents and players:

Giants Family,

The gloomy, rainy day here in New York somehow seems appropriate. I’ve always felt sad on the day after the last game of the season. It’s not because the season usually ends in a loss for most teams, but because I always missed the game and my teammates. Today is no exception.

I’ve spent over 20 years in baseball and I’ve played with and coached thousands of players on teams and in camps. Yet this season was one of my favorites for several reasons. First and foremost I credit the players –for practicing hard, for listening, for being great teammates to each other, and for steadfastly taking on the emotional ups and downs that come with the game of baseball. Secondly I credit the parents. From my experience coaching youth sports, parents are too often a liability rather than an asset to a team and to their ballplayer’s experience. Yet this season the parents were outstanding — supportive without being too involved, understanding of the our desire to have additional practices and cheering positively at all times. And lastly, I’d like to credit Coach Kelly and Coach Brad. I don’t have kids so I don’t know what it’s like to coach my own son. I’m sure it is both exceptionally rewarding and emotionally challenging. I’ve seen the coach / parent role go terribly wrong but you two are the models for how it should be done. And not surprisingly, Sean and Will had fantastic seasons and clearly loved having the two of you involved.

Finally, I hope that the kids learned something this year beyond how to swing, throw or field a ground ball. I believe that baseball is a fantastic teacher of life’s greatest lessons and much of what the coaches tried to impart on them have will be applicable in everything they do on or off the field. Here are a few nuggets that I’m sure will sound familiar to them:

* Preparation + effort > results: If you practice hard and are proud of your effort, wins and losses don’t matter.
* Be on time and hustle: the easiest part of baseball and often the most distinguishable.
* Execute the next pitch: forget about the past and eliminate from your mind the things (“external factors”) that won’t contribute to your next pitch, your next swing, etc.
* Find that fine line between being relaxed and being aggressive, when you do you will perform at your best.

Best,
Ted

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June 18, 2009 Posted by | On the Field, written by Ted Sullivan | , , , , | 5 Comments

We Are Lucky

While the economy is showing signs of recovering (or at the very at least stabilizing), non-profit organizations that rely almost entirely on donations are still struggling mightily.

Little Leagues, of course, fall into this category and today’s article on CNN reminded me of the notion that getting to play youth sports is a great privilege – and certainly not a right.

http://www.cnn.com/2009/LIVING/06/09/little.league/index.html

I feel it is extremely important for youth coaches, teachers, and parents to consistently remind kids that their time on the field should not be taken for granted and the very real possibility of entire leagues folding due to lack of donations can act as a very worthwhile teaching tool.

The silver lining to the economic meltdown that this country has experienced might very well be that we as a society start to appreciate all the little things that we once took for granted. If we can teach our kids to do the same, the next generation might act more responsibly (at least financially speaking) than we have.

June 9, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Jim Thompson: “LeBron James is Confused”

In Jim Thompson’s aptly titled post on his “Responsible Sport” blog today, he offered spot-on commentary on LeBron James’ behavior following the Cavs’ Game 6 season-ending loss on Saturday night.  It is worth a read.

For those of you who did not see what LeBron did, here’s a quick synopsis… As soon as Game 6 ended with Orlando having clinched the series, LeBron stormed off the court without offering any sort of acknowledgment to the Magic, a team that had earned every one of their four victories and the right to move on to the NBA Finals.  But LeBron wasn’t just frustrated and irrational in the moment.  Some minutes later, “King James” refused to address the media in the mandatory post-game press conference, and yesterday, when offered a chance to explain his behavior, LeBron brusquely addressed the issue, making no apologies.  In fact, he even explained it away by offering (not humorously) that he was a “winner” and a “competitor” and therefore did not see the value in congratulating his opponent following his team’s loss.

The good news is that the response to LeBron’s actions and words has been pretty much universally negative.  Even LeBron apologists, those who usually say he can do no wrong because of his other-worldly physical gifts, are questioning whether they can now root for him in the same way.

Personally, I don’t like watching LeBron play, and this is just icing on the cake.  Yes, he is no doubt a great athlete.  He distributes the ball and tries to involve his teammates in many facets of the game in a way that many superstars do not.  That is positive.  However, I believe strongly that these positives are negated (and then some) by his incessant whining to the officials – 82 games a year plus playoffs – and near absolute neglect of his opponents as worthy competitors.  I don’t like watching that kind of athlete, and I hope others will join me.

LeBron’s behavior shows an utter disrespect for the game and offers a challenge for any youth sports coach or parent who now has to explain why one of the best athletes in the world and perhaps one of the best basketball players of all time behaves in a way that is vastly different from what they expect of their own children.  How will they (we) respond to the first kid who refuses to shake hands with the opponents after a loss and then offers up, “if LeBron doesn’t do it, why do I have to?”  Good question, and the answer is that LeBron is still a young guy with a lot to learn.  Maybe he’ll eventually come to understand that he is not bigger than the game itself, at which point coaches and parents can point to him as not just a great athlete, but a great competitor.

Until he comes to this realization, however, I hope those who do Honor the Game will continue to offer LeBron more early exits from the playoffs and the opportunities to learn some much needed life lessons.

June 1, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment