Make sure a suggested change will benefit the whole team

ASK CAL

March 19, 2006|By CAL RIPKEN JR.

My son played 9-to-10-year-old baseball last year for a coach who insisted on batting his son third in the lineup. The kid literally had one hit all season long and never showed promise of getting more. Our season ended in a tournament championship game, with him striking out. We had the winning runs on base and our best hitter on deck. Would I or any other parent have been out of place suggesting to the coach that perhaps he should have moved his kid further down in the lineup?

John Stevens, Towson

Dear John / / It's always tough to question a coach who is volunteering his or her time so that kids can have an opportunity to do something that they enjoy. Many times coaches who are questioned fire back with a defensive response such as, "You had an opportunity to coach this team, too." Obviously, this is a sticky situation. While it can be uncomfortable to question a coach about his or her child's playing time or place in the lineup, a good coach always should be willing to have an open dialogue with the parents of his or her players -- especially at the youth level.

The first thing that you have to do is to step outside of your role as a parent for a moment to make sure that you are seeing things objectively. Are you making a suggestion that is going to benefit your child in some way or are you making a suggestion that is going to help all of the players on the team have a better experience? You will lose credibility with the coach if you ask him to move his son down in the order and your son up. Also keep in mind that the No. 1 objective at your son's age group is not winning and losing. At that level you are trying to develop the players' fundamental skills while helping them learn to enjoy the game. You want them to improve and have fun. Yes, this should be the primary objective for coaches of the younger "travel teams" as well.

If you determine that your suggestion is going to benefit the team as a whole, by all means speak to the coach. This should be a face-to-face or direct phone conversation, not an e-mail. Understand that the coach is a dad, too, and that he is volunteering his time and wants the best for his child -- just like you do. Understand going in that he is the coach and that he has the final decision. Don't get argumentative or emotional. Make your suggestion calmly and be prepared to accept the answer. An argument that leads to a strained relationship and discomfort between you and the coach is not going to be a healthy situation for anyone involved with the team.

I watched my 12-year-old son in the batting cage this winter. It seems he's getting the bat around too slowly. I told him to try using a lighter bat, but he likes his big barrel. What's the best method for making sure a kid has the right size bat?

Sam Lynch, Leander, Texas

Dear Sam / / Which bat to use is an individual choice. Out of necessity, most kids will find a bat that allows them to swing quickly enough to be successful at their level of play. No kid wants to go up to home plate and consistently miss pitches because he or she can't get the bat around fast enough. Unfortunately, kids are kids and need adult guidance for a reason. A kid might think that a big, heavy bat will make the ball go farther, or he might have heard that his favorite pro uses a heavy bat. You might want to let him know that some of the greatest power hitters in the game today, like Alex Rodriguez, use some of the lightest bats out there so they can generate greater bat speed.

Hitting should be the most enjoyable part of baseball. We don't want our kids to get frustrated because their bat is too big and they are not having success at that plate. One good way to determine if a bat is too big for your child is to ask him or her to take a normal stance and then swing as hard as possible. After the swing is completed, ask your child to try to reload and get back in to the batting stance as quickly as possible. If the swing causes your child to lose balance, makes your child spin around or prevents your child from returning to the original stance, there is a good chance that it is too heavy. The kid should swing the bat; the bat shouldn't swing the kid.

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Have a question or issue arising from your involvement in youthsports? Send it by e-mail to askcal@baltimoresun.com.

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