Ahead in the Count

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.


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

Why I Didn’t Cheat

by Brendan Sullivan

While it was Selena Roberts of Sports Illustrated who last week broke the most recent cover story of baseball’s steroid epidemic, it was a different article inside the same issue that moved me to write the following letter to the editor this afternoon:

Dear S.I.:

Joe Posnanski’s article on the fall of Alex Rodriguez (PLAYERS, Feb. 16) is the best article on baseball’s Steroid Era of the hundreds I’ve read.

Juiced baseballs?

I was a part of the so-called baseball Steroid Era – a submarine relief pitcher in Double-A Mobile, AL the summer that Sammy and Big Mac, disguised as pro wrestlers, shattered the single season home run record. The following two seasons, I played in Triple-A Las Vegas, a phone call away from a Padres uniform in San Diego. Steroids were everywhere – in the big leagues, in my own clubhouse, used by the men I was competing with for promotion; even by the young kids in college and the low minors who would soon be trying to take my job. I don’t know if steroids would have gotten me into the Major Leagues. When you’re that close, however, little things – a few mph here or there – can make the difference. Despite the constant temptation, and the feeling of my career and lifelong dreams slipping away, I never used.

Like Posnanski, I don’t harbor any anger towards those who used, nor do I feel sorry for them when they get caught. This mess was created by the men who run baseball (Commissioner’s office, owners, GM’s and players union alike), not those who play it – but those who juiced knew what they were doing. I agree that the fall of A-Rod shows that the real question of this era isn’t why some players cheated but rather why others did not. I’m only one player of hundreds who played it straight while the game passed them by, but I know what motivated me. I didn’t cheat because from the moment I started playing sports as a young boy, my great coaches emphasized to me that it was the process of sports that was more important than any result. Doing things the right way was more important to them than winning – and therefore it was to me.

A-Rod, just moments before he started feeling the pressure.

A-Rod, moments before the pressure overwhelmed him

My final month as a professional baseball player was spent as a minor league free agent in spring training with Texas. It was March, 2001 – the same month that the $250 million man made his Rangers debut. For thirty consecutive mornings in Port Charlotte, FL, supplemented only by protein shakes and desire, I was the first minor league player in the weight room, hours before the day’s scheduled activities began. Each morning, I walked by A-Rod hitting off a tee by himself in the batting cage – an impressive sight regardless of what was coursing through his veins. Surely, he felt intense pressure to live up to his massive contract – but those of us whose career and dreams could die any day felt pressure too.

I’ll never know if I was good enough to be a big leaguer on a level playing field. But I sleep well at night knowing I made the right choice.

Brendan Sullivan
Washington, D.C.

February 17, 2009 Posted by | Media Commentary, written by Brendan Sullivan | 5 Comments

Haywood JaStopRecruitingMe

by Brendan Sullivan


The NCAA Division I Legislative Council recently passed “emergency” legislation http://www.ncaa.org/wps/ncaa?ContentID=43882 aimed at prohibiting seventh and eight-grade boys’ basketball players from being recruited before they enter high school.

The Legislative Council was forced into action by a current recruiting landscape that features, among other atrocities, national rankings of players as young as 10 years old and prospects making oral commitments to play at top schools before they’ve completed their freshman year of high school.


Billy Haywood,#4 Ranked Three-Year-Old in Pacific Northwest. Toilet Training Pending, Verbally Committed to USC

As with many problems in amateur and youth sports, this senseless and aggressive expansion of the recruiting process can be easily traced to a pervasive win-at-all-costs culture that exists in many corners of the sports world. The pressure to win basketball games and take teams deep into postseason play in many Division I conferences has created an atmosphere where coaching staffs choose to spend more and more time  on the road searching for their next star, meanwhile leaving their current student athletes, many in desperate need of constant coaching, mentoring and guidance, behind. How would you feel as the parent of a student-athlete who is struggling to stay eligible, knowing that the men who promised to care for him were spending their time watching middle school hoops?

Recently, the coaches at both Kentucky and Southern California recruited and secured verbal committments from future players while they were still enrolled in ninth grade classes. Ninth grade!! Meanwhile, both teams made the 2008 NCAA Tournament. The Wildcats marched into the Madness sporting a graduation rate of 23% (9% of their African-American Players). The Trojans did much better: 29% overall and 22% African-American.

But those 14-year-old recruits that the coaches are text messaging every 15 minutes can really play!  Just wait until they hit puberty.

January 17, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized, written by Brendan Sullivan | 1 Comment

2008 to the Good Guys

written by Brendan Sullivan

Over the years, I’ve come to realize one of the inherent challenges in youth coaching: we are trying to teach boys and girls whose behavior is constantly influenced by professional heroes and role models who often times don’t act as if they realize the responsibility they shoulder.

From the perspective of those of us on the front lines of the sports world, – chalk up 2008 for the good guys.

Giants Cowboys Football

The sporting year began with a Super Bowl upset by classy Eli Manning and his New York Football Giants over an arrogant and allegedly unethical Patriots squad who, despite their golden boy, supermodel-bowling quarterback, can’t escape the image of their grumpy, disheveled win-at-all-costs genius coach and a recently-spoiled swarm of semi-tolerable chowderhead fans.

Major League Baseball and the NBA followed suit. The scrappy Phillies, led by uber-gamers Chase Utley and Shane Victorino, along with 45-year old southpaw Jamie Moyer, once again outpaced the overpaid Mets and their fuel-on-fire bullpen down the stretch in the National League East to make the playoffs and then made a post-season run that began with a dismantling of the Manny-come-lately Dodgers and their towel-waving, front-running, come-to-be-seen LA chump fans who don’t know the difference between a sac fly and a screenplay. Even the young Devil Rays and Joe Maddon (who helps combat the dead-on stereotype of the brain-dead baseball “lifer”) couldn’t slow the Phillies roll. The best part: A-Rod and the boys watched all of October from home – though only one of them from Madonna’s lair.

I’d rather watch elephants mate than an NBA regular season game. The average effort displayed by NBA players during a Tuesday evening tilt in January is an absolute joke, considering what superior athletes they are and how much they’re paid to play H.O.R.S.E. to periodic arena blasts of hip-hop music every few nights. When I released my categorical denial of the existence of NBA in June, it was great to see a Finals matchup of the league’s oldest and best rivaly: the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics. Of particular interest to those of us on this blog and others fighting the tides of win-at-all costs coaching at the youth level in this country, was the fact that the series featured two head coaches, Phil Jackson and Doc Rivers, who are adamant supporters and spokesman of the Positive Coaching Alliance. They combined to write this editorial in the San Jose Mercury News on the eve of Game One.

If I could remember who was last man standing in the NHL without resorting to Google, I’m sure I could research further to name a couple classy and hard-working toothless Canadians who hoisted the Stanley Cup at the end of an interminable playoff season sometime in May/June. What a year!

For me, the best story from the year in sports came from an unlikely place – unless you are a Pacific Northwest Division II softball junkie like I am. In a late season matchup with Central Washington University that had postseason implications, Western Oregon’s Sara Tucholsky is injured rounding the bases after a homerun. Central Washingon’s players set a standard for sportsmanship that will forever be hard to match.

A couple additional notes to close 2008:

For My Money the Biggest Buffoon in Professional Sports (and also most popular athlete in DC – see point above about clueless role models):


Gilbert Arenas, sidelined Washington Wizards star, engaged to Laura Govan, mom of his two kids:

“You want your money in a ring, or you want your money in the wedding? Woman’s gonna choose a ring.”

“I’ve done kicked her out of my house almost every weekend, yet she’s still here and she still believes in me”

Read more garbage on Gil’s blog.

And the First Annual Just When You Thought You Had Already Hit Bottom Award

(From this point forward the “Mitch-Slap of the Year Award”). See it here.

New Year’s Resolution #87: Blog once per week.

Happy New Year

December 28, 2008 Posted by | written by Brendan Sullivan | Leave a comment

Diving in Headfirst

posted by Brendan Sullivan

Why dip your toe into the blogosphere for the first time when you can dive headfirst? I can’t think of a good reason, so my first post will be shaped like a grenade, sans pin, and lobbed into the offices of one of the planet’s most influential newspapers.

Last night when I went to bed, as has been the case on each evening of my 33 years, I tossed and turned, lamenting the fact that there existed no established rating system for high school quarterbacks. No way to offically compare the up-and-coming JV passers at Quince Orchard and Seneca Valley when selecting my high school fantasy team each autumn. No way to determine who’s 3-for-7 for 43 yards was truly the better performance. Thankfully, Jeff Nelson has solved this problem today on page E1 of the Washington Post, by debuting The Washington Post High School Passer Rating. Tonight, I will rest peacefully.


Jeff describes The Post’s rating system as follows: “Like the others, it is strictly a measure of passing. It is not meant to judge overall quarterback quality, because there’s no feasible way to include rushing statistics or the glorified intangibles associated with being a quarterback: leadership, poise, penchant for last-minute heroics, etc.”

I describe The Post’s rating system as follows: total garbage.

Aside from the absurdity of creating a statistic that compares quarterbacks with no variable to account for the fact that some play against the competition of small private school leagues and others in massive public school districts, do we really need another statistic in youth and amateur sports? Another way for high school athletes and coaches to compare themselves to or rank themselves against one another while losing focus on why prep sports exist in the first place? Why bother trying to include “glorified intangibles” such as leadership, poise and penchant for heroics? Perhaps because that’s why the games are supposed to be played – to teach our young people how to compete, how to control their emotions in the heat of that competition, how to become leaders, and how to care as much about their teammates than their own success and statistics.

The two young men featured in the article, Curran Chabra of Churchill HS in Potomac, MD (outside of DC) and Mike Mooney of Wooton HS in Rockville, MD, are both having wonderful seasons (as are their teams) and deserve the recognition given them in this article. I’d just rather read about what makes those two guys tick, which coaches in their past have had the most influence on them and what their youth sports expererience has done for them off the field – instead of an article that attempts to make an amateur sport more like its professional relative by concocting a statistical comparison that ignores everything that youth sports is supposed to be about.




November 12, 2008 Posted by | Media Commentary, written by Brendan Sullivan | Leave a comment