Ahead in the Count

Changing the Game

written by Ted Sullivan

About 14 months ago, in last line of the first post on this blog, I mentioned that I was getting back into amateur sports full-time through a startup company I had founded. That company, Fungo Media, Inc. has just launched it’s first product: GameChanger.

GameChanger provides mobile apps and web tools that collect, manage and distribute live streaming game data for youth, high school and college sports.

Beginning with baseball and softball, the free GameChanger iPhone app lets coaches and scorekeepers simultaneously score a game and generate dozens of stats in real-time, eliminating tedious post-game calculations.

As each play is scored, the GameChanger online tools deliver a live play-by-play “GameStream” to the web browsers and mobile phones of parents and fans — or to real-time scoreboard “widgets” hosted on the websites of local news outlets, leagues, tournaments, travel teams and schools.

I’ve written a blog post about the company, the team and our mission that includes a short video of GameChanger in action.

Please follow our progress on TwitterFacebook and on the GameChanger Blog.

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January 4, 2010 Posted by | On the Field, written by Ted Sullivan | , , , , , | Leave a comment

How do you Handle Pressure?

Many thanks to friend and former teammate, Dan Rouhier, for this guest post. Danny played baseball at George Washington University and is now a professional comedian based in NYC. Check him out at www.funnydanny.com.

How do you Handle Pressure?

It’s a common topic for sports reporters, columnists, and talking heads on nightly highlight shows.  You can also hear it in locker rooms, team buses, the post-game buffet, and even in the darkest reaches of fandom from the bleachers to living rooms.  ‘______ is clutch’, ‘________ always chokes’, ‘________ has never won anything in his whole life and is named A-Rod’ etc.

Cliff Lee

Cliff Lee's preparation breeds confidence

To the casual observer, this seemingly nebulous quality of strong performances in the most important moments is hard to quantify.  Either a guy has it or doesn’t have it.  Some used to have it and don’t, others didn’t but then got it, and this other guy named Eli Manning is just lucky.  To most fans and even players, clutch performers are just guys that have an innate ability to rise to the occasion and that’s all there is to it.  But is this really true?

After his dominant performance in Game 1 of the World Series at Yankee Stadium, Phillies starter Cliff Lee was asked how he seemed so calm out there in this, the most pressured of environments, and he said (paraphrasing here. Apologies for not being able to find the exact quote) ‘I don’t really get nervous.  The reason you work so hard is to prepare you for games like this.  I trust my preparation and that gives me confidence.’

I wish every young athlete in America had seen that and taken it to heart.  I really believe this is one of the most important lessons for a young athlete as he or she advances in her career.  Your preparation gives you confidence.  We’ll get back to that.

First, let’s talk about pressure.  What is pressure?  You can’t touch it, hear it, or taste it (unless you count that ‘chalky-mouth’ taste that you sometimes get; where it feels like your haven’t produced any saliva since Reagan was president).  But why then can it have such a dramatic affect on our performance?  Pressure, without getting too scientific, is a manifestation of our most basic animal instincts.  The famed ‘fight or flight’ response that you hear about while watching National Geographic is the same force that causes us to feel pressure.  Your heart rate increases, you sweat, your senses are heightened, your muscles tighten and adrenaline pumps through your body.  This comes whether we like it or not.  The same sensation that took over a caveman when he wandered into a Sabre tooth Tiger’s lair is the same feeling that a 12 year old gets when he’s on the mound in a bases-loaded, full-count, 2-out, tie-game, bottom of the last inning situation.  So how do we deal with it?  How do we stare down the beast and throw a strike?

Here is where preparation comes in.  Cliff Lee can close his eyes and see himself running back in February when no one else is around.  He can think back to the hundreds of bullpens, the hours of exercises, and the time digesting the scouting reports.  Cliff can take a deep breath and remember all of his hard work and know, with 100% confidence, that he is prepared for this moment.  Can you?  You are the only one who knows if you gave everything you had.  You can get by on 90%, and sometimes even less in practice.  You can take a rep or 2 off and no one will notice.  But then, when the game is on the line, what can you call upon to calm the chaos surrounding you?  What will you think back on?

A great coach once told me: ‘Clutch is born of preparation and opportunity’.  I really believe this.  As a player, before games, I would always remind my teammates of the hard work we had put in.  We challenged each other and didn’t let one another slack.  Those times are what gave us the strength to succeed and help us believe that we could accomplish our goals.  As a coach, I try to instill that same confidence into my players.  If you worked hard and did everything you could to be the best player you can be, you should feel ready to handle the most pressure packed moment.  When you sense that moment, when the opposing fans are rattling the fences, that’s when you can take a breath and hopefully call upon your preparation to quiet the storm.

The reason some of us gravitate towards youth coaching is that we believe sports can be an incredible teacher, chock full of life lessons at every turn.  Performing in a pressure spot translates into the world outside of sports.  In my life, every job interview I’ve had or performance in front of hundreds or audition in front of 3 sets of judgmental eyes has been a breeze.  Why?  Because I stood in against Angels starter Joe Saunders and hit a ball so hard off of him, it attempted to apologize.  I also struck out to end the game against an 88 mph Brad Lidge slider that I have still never seen.  The point is, after those occasions and others like them, everything else is a cake walk.  Hard work breeds confidence.

Thanks for reading!

Guest post by Dan Rouhier.

November 2, 2009 Posted by | On the Field | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Check that… THIS might be the most impressive and gutsy baseball player I’ve ever seen

written by Ted Sullivan

Adam Bender hustles down the line.

Adam Bender hustles down the line.

Back in August I wrote a post on a group of blind baseball players, calling them “the most impressive and gutsy baseball players” I had ever seen.

I stand corrected.

Check out this segment from the Today Show about nine year old Adam Bender.

Adam plays little league baseball, soccer and probably any sport he wants — all on one leg.

And he’s good! How many two-legged nine year olds can get around the basepaths with Adam’s speed?

I was watching this at the gym this morning — moments after whining to the trainer about how stiff and sore my two legs were from yesterdays workout. I’m such a wimp.

October 15, 2009 Posted by | Media Commentary, On the Field, written by Ted Sullivan | , , , | Leave a comment

Baseball Gets Good

written by Ted Sullivan

Phillies, looking to repeat.

Phillies, looking to repeat.

My friends are often surprised when I tell them that I don’t watch that much baseball. As a kid I always preferred to be out on the field rather than on the couch watching on TV. And now that I’ve sat through enough meaningless minor league games to fill three lifetimes, I’d rather watch  The Wire, The Office or even 60 Minutes instead of a regular season MLB game.

I still love the game. I enjoy the highlights on SportsCenter and spend many spring / summer hours on the field coaching kids. But with the exception of the All-Star game I can honestly say I haven’t watched more than two consecutive innings on TV all season.

However my indifference to major league baseball on TV will end this weekend as the NLCS and ALCS begin.

I’ll tune in for these games because playoff baseball — when every pitch matters, when each decision by a manager is make or break, when stadiums are exploding with energy —  is the second best sports entertainment on television. (Duke hoops in March in a not-so-photo finish.)

I’m especially excited about this year because I think all four remaining teams have a legitimate chance at winning it all. The Yanks’ lineup is silly, the Angels are starving for a championship, the Phillies are consummate pros and the Dodgers have Torre, Manny and a legit pitching staff. If we’re lucky we’ll see Pedro vs Manny, Mo vs Vlady, an LA “freeway” series and all of NYC on suicide watch if the Yankees choke.

Let the games begin.

October 14, 2009 Posted by | On the Field, Uncategorized | , , , , | 1 Comment

Thoughts for the Sidelines

written by Brendan Sullivan

Some thoughts as we hit the fields (and sidelines) this fall…

As a young athlete, I was very fortunate to have two unwaveringly supportive parents. I firmly believe that this support was instrumental in my wonderful experiences here at home in DC, and also helped me take my love of baseball to the collegiate and professional levels. Parents play an enormously important role in the athletic development of boys and girls, but a parent’s impact on their child’s athletic experience can be positive or negative. Here are a few tips for being the sports parent that your student-athlete deserves:

Prepare your athlete

Athletes play better (and have more fun) when they are properly prepared. Make a commitment to get your son or daughter to practices and games on time, with all necessary SuperStock_867R-1315-FBequipment (this should be their job, with your help!). Players who are constantly late and missing important items rarely play up to their potential and begin to feel that they are letting their teammates down. Proper nutrition is crucial as well. Help fuel your athlete with good, healthy snacks and fluids before and after their events.

The experience is your child’s not yours

Remember that this is your athlete’s experience, not yours, and that she should take ownership of it. Encourage her to organize her own equipment and uniform, carry her own bag, and communicate directly with her coaches (about issues, absences, etc). This feeling of ownership will allow her to feel more in control and get more benefit from the season. You don’t need to hang on the fence and watch every practice. It is ok to pick her up and let her tell you about it on the way home.

Be the TEAM’s biggest fan

PCA_HTG%201The Positive Coaching Alliance provides research showing that young athletes perform better in environments that achieve a “Magic Ratio” of 5 positives for every 1 criticism or correction. As a fan, you can do your part to boost that positive column! Cheer for all team members, not just your own child. Also, cheer for players who hustle, help a teammate or exhibit strong sportsmanship as much (or more) as you do when your team scores runs or points.

Let the players and coaches worry about winning

The athletic culture in this country is extremely win-at-all-costs and we need to work together to change this. We are all competitive, especially coaches and young athletes. Parents and fans should focus on making the environments in which their children play as positive and fun as possible. Young athletes will play their chosen sports longer when they enjoy themselves and are surrounded by positive and motivational parents and coaches – not because their team goes undefeated.

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The First Fan Brings Positive Energy on the Soccer Sidelines With the Wicked Witch of the East

September 18, 2009 Posted by | On the Field, written by Brendan Sullivan | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Question of Curveballs

written by Ted Sullivan

Tim Lincecum. Nasty curveball.

Tim Lincecum throws one of MLB's best curveballs.

As a youth baseball coach I’m often asked if curveballs hurt young arms.

In the youth sports ecosystem it’s become almost an accepted fact that curveballs are bad for the arms of young pitchers. Recently Mark Hyman wrote a piece for the NY Times explaining that recent studies have contradicted these long-held opinions.

I’m not a doctor and  have no evidence to support or refute these findings.

What I do believe is that young arms (and any arms for that matter) are hurt by the following:

  1. Poor / inefficient / overly violent mechanics — on all pitches, but especially breaking balls.
  2. Overuse — but only when compared to what an arm is in shape to throw. Like any other athletic activity, if you aren’t in shape it is damaging to push to extremes. You wouldn’t run a marathon without training and therefore shouldn’t throw 100 pitches in a game unless you have built up the arm, leg and core body strength to do so.
  3. Lack of care after throwing (stretch, ice, rest, etc) and
  4. Lack of care and preparation in the days and hours before pitching (off-day workouts, pre-game warm up, etc.)

I don’t teach young pitchers to throw curveballs because it’s possible that these pitches hurt young arms. But the primary reason I don’t teach these pitches is that pitchers will quickly get addicted to them. Young batters have a hard time hitting anything that breaks — even poorly thrown curveballs. So young pitchers (and more likely coaches who are calling pitches — an issue worthy of another blog post) tend to rely too much on breaking pitches. This keeps young players from developing their fastball which is the foundation of any good pitcher’s repertoire.

August 3, 2009 Posted by | Media Commentary, On the Field, written by Ted Sullivan | , , , , | 1 Comment

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

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

Let the Coach do the Coaching

Yesterday I got an email from a friend who coaches her son’s tee ball team. She was asking for advice for how to deal with an overly aggressive dad who spends most of the game coaching from the bleachers. The dad supposedly yells instruction at his son and sometimes at the other players, upsetting many of the kids and frustrating the coaches.

This is a pretty common issue — especially at the lower levels of youth sports where many fathers (and mothers… but usually fathers) believe that they can do a better job than the coach. I’m not a parent but I’ve witnessed scenes like this enough times to understand that there must be such an overwhelming urge to see one’s child succeed on the athletic field that normal rules of human interaction no longer apply.

Kids should learn at an early age that there are one or two authority figures on the field t0 whom they need to listen —  just as there are one or two teachers in their classroom. No parent would ever think that having 12 parents in a classroom — each yelling at their kid to color within the lines or finish their multiplication tables faster — would create a good learning environment. But somehow when sports and competition are involved, good sense is lost.

I encouraged my friend to have an admittedly uncomfortable conversation with the father. I told her not to single him out as the only one who does this and to use the analogy of an elementary school classroom. For further motivation, I explained that the guy’s child will be the ultimate beneficiary.

I look forward to hearing what happens. Maybe my friend will  comment on this post with an update.

May 4, 2009 Posted by | On the Field, written by Ted Sullivan | 1 Comment

Update on “Opening Day” Post… and a Coach’s Greatest Pleasure

Ten days ago I wrote a post that addressed a dilemma I was facing with my little league team here in Downtown Manhattan.

I ended that post with the following summary of my concern:

Here are the series of conflicting issues in my head:

– League rules make for boring games.

– These kids need to have fun.

– Our team needs to get better.

– Baseball practice isn’t always fun — especially with limited field space.

So where do we go from here?

After reading a couple good comments on that post and doing some thinking I determined that the solution is short (1 hour) optional practices using very limited field space during which we work on basic baseball fundamentals mixed in with a little competition and lots of positive energy. Attendance at these workouts has been better than expected (and attended by different players than expected) and I’ve witnessed significant improvement in a matter of a couple weeks.

On Sunday we won our second game by 11 runs and the mercy rule. We got 12 hits and our best pitcher — and the leagues’s best player — dominated on the mound.

But our biggest challenge was still ahead of us. After two more optional (and fun) practices on Monday and Tuesday we had a game last night in which four of our better players (and our three top pitchers) were on a school camping trip. I admit that going into the game my hopes weren’t very high. We had to take two players from the “minors” to field a team but my primary concern was that I didn’t think we had enough kids who could throw consistent strikes.

Despite my fear of a “death-by-base-on-balls,” I was treated to one of the greatest pleasures a coach of young ballplayers will ever experience. Two inexperienced pitchers STEPPED UP with outstanding efforts on the mound and a display of mental toughness that was even more impressive than their physical performances. We made most of the basic plays in the field and had some clutch hitting that resulted in a 7-6 win in the bottom of the last inning.

It was fun to win but even better to see a bunch of multi-talented “super-kids” from downtown Manhattan begin to understand how rewarding baseball can be when you practice hard and execute when the game’s on the line.

But we still have a lot of work to do… so stay tuned for further updates.

(Lastly, an “Only in TriBeCa” sidenote: As I walked to the field yesterday from my apartment, bucket of balls in hand, I spent most of the 10 minute stroll next to Mike Myers of SNL, Wayne’s World, Austin Powers and Shrek fame.)

April 30, 2009 Posted by | On the Field, written by Ted Sullivan | 1 Comment

Little League Opening Day… now what?

Yesterday was opening day for my 11 and 12 year olds in New York City’s Downtown Little League. The game was a tough one to swallow. Usually these games are forgotten by the time I walk off the field but I’ll admit yesterday’s hung with me for a bit — but not only because we lost a game we should have won. 

 

I had a few thoughts throughout most of the day — all of which seemed to conflict with each other. I’d love the help of any readers and my fellow bloggers as I try to sort them out. 

 

First, yesterday’s game was pretty ugly from a baseball perspective. There were a handful of great plays but in general, the game was determined by walks and strikeouts. I’m having my fellow coach calculate the following stat: of the total number of plate appearances in the game, how many ended in either a walk or a strikeout. Two league rules — strict pitch count limits and required batting through the lineup of all 13 players–  inevitably leads to this result too often: a young inexperienced pitcher throwing to a young, inexperienced hitter. The result is a strikeout or walk over 50% of the time. Now I’m not concerned with the fact that I have to watch this, or whether this is an advantage or disadvantage for my team.  My concern here is that games like that take the fun out of baseball — and most of our kids are at the critical time in their baseball lives where they need to fall in love with the game if they are going to keep playing after this season. This isn’t made any easier by the immediate gratification of video games and 1000 other potential ways they can spend their time. The bar is set pretty high. 

 

Ok, hold that thought. 

 

The other thing that kept going through my head after yesterday’s game is: we need to get better. After 20+ years as a player and coach my instant reaction after a game like that is practice, practice, practice.  When can we find field time? How can I work with our pitchers? How can we get in a cage? etc, etc. However unfortunately the type of practice this team needs — and more importantly, the type of practice downtown NYC field space provides — is not particularly fun for young players. We don’t have access to a full field other than our 1 practice per week (maybe) and our games on Sundays. We need pitching drill work. We need fielding drills, we need to break down our swings and build them back up.

 

But my fear is that I’m not sure whether the majority of the kids on this team really want to spend their time this way. This is rec league baseball in downtown Manhattan. These kids are going to be successful writers, bankers, musicians and movie producers. It’s not that they aren’t great kids and of course they want to succeed. But if given the choice I’m not sure they will want to put in an extra 20+ hours of practice time this season for the marginal improvement they might see. 

 

Here are the series of conflicting issues in my head: 

– League rules make for boring games.

– These kids need to have fun. 

– Our team needs to get better.

– Baseball practice isn’t always fun — especially with limited field space. 

 

So where do we go from here?

April 20, 2009 Posted by | On the Field, written by Ted Sullivan | 4 Comments