I am writing this post to express my thoughts and contempt for our High School Association. While this is based on my recent experience with the state of Michigan, I have to assume what I am sharing is not unique to the Mitten. Feel free to share your comments.
I’m coaching school ball again, something I swore never to do. It’s been a couple weeks now since taking over for coach who unexpectedly resigned. I am enjoying it much more than anticipated and doing the school a big favor on short notice. We’ll call it “giving back.” I seem to have supportive parents and the girls have bought into what I'm selling.
My fellow travel coaches and I now have to meet with all of our pitchers and their parents at the end of our winter workouts and stress the importance of not letting their school coaches destroy their arms. Seriously!
After I agreed to take over the team I was given a list of things I had to do by the school (asap of course). The first was 5 solid hours of online forms, video training and testing some of which included, blood borne pathogens, sexual harassment/abuse, proper ways to restrain students and several others. The quickest thing was filling out a form for a criminal background check, which I do annually for my job and coaching travel ball. I also had to renew my CPR and Concussion certificates. Finally, I had to get finger printed, at my expense ($62), which I had just done for my day job a few months ago.
In total that was about 8 hours of my time. But, that only satisfied the school’s requirements. Next up was the “Online Rules Meeting” for the MHSAA (2 hours). And this is what prompted me to write this post. I want to set the stage for you. First, imagine you are a new coach and that you are either pretty much oblivious to the world of travel softball ---or--- have been coaching for many years, but have virtually no knowledge or experience with travel softball. Okay, are you with me?
The first hour was about all high school sports in general. This was the most frustrating for me to endure. Nearly every other point repeatedly regurgitated the following:
• Travel sports are increasing injuries including concussions, over-use injuries and burn-out.
• College coaches want to see multi-sport athletes.
• Multi-sport athletes have less injuries.
• Sport specialization is bad for young athletes and makes them more apt to have over-use injuries, concussions and become burned out.
Let me address each of these. First point, Travel sports are increasing injuries including concussions, over-use injuries and burn-out. They lumped all sports together, then spewed several statistics to support their claims.
Concussions: Very few softball players I know have ever suffered concussions. Typically, catchers who have taken bad foul tips are more susceptible. I have had 2 catchers that experienced concussions. Both are travel and school players. They got their concussions while playing high school games. Are these included in the stats the MHSAA provided? Good question right? The video subtly implied that concussions only occur in or due to travel sports.
Let’s say a player plays travel softball during the summer. She is also on her high school volleyball team (fall sport in Michigan). During the summer her volleyball coach has practices. Is her concussion she got during volleyball due to the fact she is playing travel softball? Well, this is the implied message propagated throughout these MHSAA video.
College coaches want to see multi-sport athletes: I call bull shit on this! I’ve yet to explain to a college coach recruiting one of my players, “Oh sorry, but she is at a volleyball tournament this weekend” and have them react joyously. Nor have I ever had a college coach happy about the fact a player could not attend their camp because she had another sport activity going on. The reality is that most players will be quickly forgotten in these scenarios.
Why wouldn't they after the annual brain washing they get?
And while virtually all college coaches proudly proclaim their love of multi-sport athletes, how many of their softball players play multiple sports in college? I’ve had players express interest in doing so to their college coaches. Let’s just say they weren’t very open-minded to the ideas. A tad hypocritical, don’t you think? And how about the athlete, such as both of my daughters. They played soccer and softball, but both are spring sports in Michigan. Would you like to guess how receptive high school coaches are to players who try playing both sports in the same season? “Hey coach, I can only practice one day this week because of soccer.” “Hey coach, I won’t be at that tournament because of softball.” Hear the crickets?
Or as my youngest daughter Hayley said to me at the end of her 8th grade year while watching my daughter Brooke’s varsity game, “Dad. I don’t want to play soccer anymore. I just want to get better at softball. That’s the only college interest I’m getting anyways.” She was never interested in basketball or volleyball, the other season sports. And she grew to love softball much more than soccer. We played basketball in the driveway and catch with the football all the time. She played with her guy friends flag/touch football often as well. She knows more than many boys about the game of football. So, she would be lumped into the stats of an athlete who specializes in one sport. My girl, who never missed a game in any sport due to injury.
One of my travel players plays high school basketball. Her team made it to quarter finals this year. So, she missed many winter workouts (4-person off-season workouts) as well as the week of tryouts and first week of practices. Her reward? She got to sit the bench the first game and play little in the second. This is a sophomore who started every game as a freshman. She was literally punished by her softball coach, until the athletic director stepped in. But, “We love multi-sport athletes.” Would it have made any difference had she missed those dates due to going on college visits or has a big recruiting event to attend? Isn’t the goal to help get these girls to college and provide them better odds at acquiring a college degree?
Multi-sport athletes have fewer injuries: Tell this to the numerous softball players I’ve coached who have blown their knees out in volleyball, basketball or even soccer. Again, I call bull shit! There are 365 days in a year. Whether a player is playing only softball or multiple sports, she’s playing something. Nowhere during the video did it mention that many travel athletes (who aspire to play in college someday) also do strength and conditioning workouts (like many of my current players and my daughter did). Should that not be equivalent to playing another sport?
And they wonder why participation rates are in decline?
Another 3-sport athlete (softball, volleyball & basketball) who plays travel softball has had numerous injuries, occurring in all sports she participates in. She misses many winter workouts due to her school sports practices and games. Are her injuries in basketball due to her playing travel softball in the summer? She is one of many I've coached with similar experiences. I was a 3-sport athlete in high school long before the advent of travel sports (Football, Power Lifting & Baseball), not to mention me and my buddies were always playing ball at home. I had numerous injuries as well. Was this due to playing on my summer recreational baseball team? I'm simply attempting to show the flaws of their logic here.
Specialization prior to high school? No. Why would you? This is where they can try new sports to see if they like them. Winning doesn't matter so much and nobody (except for Florida) is recruiting them. But, the high school years are different. Athletes know what they are best at, enjoy the most and have their best chance to play in college. Why is the MHSAA bastardizing their decision to focus on their best sport at this point? During the video, they never separate stats between high school and middle school athletes. They don’t even mention it.
Sport specialization is bad for young athletes and makes them more apt to have over-use injuries, concussions and become burned out: How about my pitcher, who played travel hockey (yea girls have hockey up here in the Mitten). I can’t remember, but she may have played volleyball too. Regardless, her high school coach over pitched her so much that she missed the first three tournaments of our summer travel season. This during the most important summer in her college recruiting process. Who caused those injuries? It wasn’t travel hockey or travel softball.
And she’s not the only pitcher I’ve seen get over-pitched in high school. Another who played with my daughter missed our entire summer travel season. She was committed to a D1 college. I recall her dad telling me she had to be able to pass the fall physical or risk losing her athletic scholarship. She was also a multi-sport athlete, except it wasn’t travel softball that caused her over-use injury. It was her high school softball coach whose ego needed stroking, chasing the glory and championship of the world pitched her in nearly every game that season. My fellow travel coaches and I now have to meet with all of our pitchers and their parents at the end of our winter workouts and stress the importance of not letting their school coaches destroy their arms. Seriously!
The typical pitcher can throw 2 games in a double-header, which is how the majority of week night games are scheduled in Michigan. Do so in conference games? Sure. But, why do this the next night during non-conference games? They’re equivalent to scrimmages as they don’t count for anything other than the coach’s record. And in Michigan we have weekend high school tourneys. Again, they do not count towards league standings. Yet, I see pitchers throwing 300+ pitches in all three games every year, and shockingly sometimes more. Why? Who is causing over-use injuries?
Burn out? Some players get burned out just as many adults do in their careers. They may not be getting better, as not all athletes do, and therefore is not enjoying playing so much (or sitting the bench). “Hey boss, I’m getting burned out. Can I get next month off with pay to recharge my batteries? I’m over using my brain and my ass hurts from sitting all day. My eyes need a break from this computer screen boss.” Let me know how that works out for you. Any regular readers of this blog have seen the effort I’ve made to encourage players to take breaks “as often as needed.” I explain the need for mental and physical breaks to their parents first, then the players.
As a coach, I plan practices to include all sorts of drills like non-throwing, base-running and footwork drills. For school, this is true especially during the beginning of the season. In school and travel, I constantly ask if anybody has sore arms or other injuries I need to know about. Those players can do partial drills or rest during others. I like to have mini-competitions too, which makes practices fun. I have several drills that accomplish the same thing, yet keeps it fresh for the players. When a school player who does not play travel sports says, “Wow. Practice is over already?” I know it was a good practice. These players won’t be burned out at the end of the season.
However, I hear from most of my travel players about their school coaches and practices every year. It’s like a broken record. Not only do they over pitch their pitchers (and over catch catchers), they have them throw batting practice on days between games. Who is causing over-use injuries or burn-out? Many high school pitchers are not travel pitchers, but pitch for their schools because there’s nobody else who can do it as good as them. These girls will go from never pitching to throwing 200+ pitches on game days. That results in various injuries as their bodies are not used to it. Is this the fault of travel softball too? I also constantly hear, “Coach, he/she makes us run for half the practice. He/she never teaches us anything, they just tell us to go scrimmage or we do infield/outfield, then hit off a machine. I hate it!” Who is causing burn-out?
And so, new coaches and those “old-school” coaches (and athletic directors) who watch these rules meetings walk away thinking travel sports are toxic and cause great harm to the athletes. It’s pure propaganda and extremely misleading (Edward Bernays would be proud). Not once during these meetings over the years do they explain to school coaches that they share responsibility of their player’s well-being. Not once do they mention you cannot pitch a pitcher 300+ pitches night after night, or maybe rest the catcher the 3rd game of a tourney. Or when the player tells the coach about her sore arm/elbow/back from pitching and they end up throwing her again, or belittling her that she's not tough enough or is letting the team down. Nope, those injuries all come from those damn travel teams!
I’m not pedestalizing travel coaches. There’s plenty of bad ones out there who want to win at all costs or are careless concerning the health of their players. I am however tired of the bashing of travel sports by the MHSAA, athletic directors and (part-time) school coaches. I’ve yet to see school coaches or AD’s get angry about having highly skilled and trained players fall in their laps year after year or return the trophies they won. That said, I’ve seen players be treated with prejudice simply because their coach inexplicably hates travel softball players (every year). You can’t make it up. Why wouldn't they after the annual brain washing they get?
And they wonder why participation rates are in decline? It’s too easy to blame travel sports for them. In my area there are virtually no freshman softball teams and the number of JV teams are also in decline. There’s plenty of blame to go around such as the “everybody gets a trophy” philosophy, coddling children, the decay of the family structure, not permitting children to fail so they can learn to deal with it and more. Should we not be teaching our children to be resilient, diligent and how to compete? Can't we teach children to enjoy the process of hard work towards a goal and finishing things they've started?
Or should we spew bogus statistics to damn travel sports, while turning a blind eye on school athletics? Politics and this kind of mindset (BS) are the biggest reasons I swore I’d never coach school ball again. With the time requirements, time off work, hours of ridiculous training that makes you feel dirty for wanting to coach youth sports and the defamation of travel sports/coaches, is it any wonder there are shortages of qualified school coaches?
Enough already MHSAA!