How many soccer goals is too many?

ASK CAL

May 21, 2006|By CAL RIPKEN JR.

My son's travel soccer team has had its struggles over the years and often faces much more talented teams, with resulting scores ending up decidedly lopsided. I never feel more distressed while watching his games than when the other team runs up the score. In the games where his team is winning and the score could become lopsided, his coach insists that the kids stop taking shots on goal. Other coaches in this situation have made their kids pass the ball at least five times before taking a shot. The coaches that don't adopt either of these approaches argue that you shouldn't keep a kid from the joy of scoring goals, despite the score. Your thoughts on this?

Mark Somerfield, Forest Hill

Dear Mark / / No parent wants to see his or her child end up on the short end of a lopsided score. We get great joy out of seeing our kids have fun when they participate in sports, and when the games get out of hand, we fear that they will start to become discouraged. Keep in mind that when your child's team is winning by a large margin, there are 10 or 12 parents on the other side of the field who are feeling the way that you do in similar circumstances.

I don't believe in "running up the score" at any level. But I also don't believe in telling the kids to stop competing. A simple solution might be to have the kids work on certain skills or strategies that they struggle with and to give them goals that they can accomplish within the framework of the game. This could be passing, running plays successfully, communication or trying to develop their off-hand or their weaker foot. Celebrate if the kids achieve these goals the same way that you would if they were to score a goal or hit a home run and make them feel good about their performance.

My question has to do with signs from the third base coach. How involved or how simple should these signs be for players aged 10-12? I had some coaches in the past that had signs that were extremely simple: If he put his hand on his belt, it meant bunt. If he put his hand on his shoulder, it meant steal. I believe that players are smarter these days, even in the 10-12-year-old range. I think they can handle an indicator and a few more advanced signs besides the simple mnemonic devices I learned from some of my coaches. I also believe it opens up another avenue to learning more about the nuances of the game. What do you think?

Bob Shank, Blakeslee, Pa.

Dear Bob / / Certainly there are many kids who are exposed to more competitive situations in baseball than I was during my childhood. However, even for the younger teams that play 40 or more games a year, we have to keep in mind that the No. 1 consideration is helping them develop the fundamental skills that they will need to be able to continue playing as they get older. I would question your theory that kids are "smarter" these days. Kids are still kids, and while they may have been exposed to more baseball, that doesn't necessarily mean that they understand the game any better.

Baseball is a simple game. The teams that throw and catch the best generally win more games than the other teams. The most successful players are those who master the fundamentals and continue working at them. So, in the age group you are referring to, I would argue that you shouldn't be giving too many signals to begin with, much less more complicated signals. As teams progress to more competitive levels, there are certain strategies that you want to introduce to the kids, but players at this age still need to focus on throwing, catching and hitting. An example would be having a "take" sign. Do we want to teach kids to walk or to hit? There shouldn't be any automatic take signs at this level. Let's teach the players the proper fundamentals in practice and let them develop those in game situations instead of trying to control too much at too young an age.

I am an assistant coach of my son's prep league team. The head coach and I have a different way of teaching the rotation of players when getting a runner in the pickle. Is there any way you could give me a quick drill to run with the kids? Who shifts if a runner is between first and second? Who shifts if the runner is between second and third?

Todd Banta, Nampa, Idaho

Dear Todd / / Rundowns are one of the team fundamentals that you see get messed up frequently at the big league level. So, remember to be patient when trying to teach young players how to execute them correctly. First, you want all of your infielders to understand the object of a rundown and how to execute the actual play. Once all of your infielders can do this, then you can explain the various rotations -- which can be complicated -- to them.

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