Discuss sleep requirements with night-owl teenage son


August 27, 2006|By CAL RIPKEN JR.

How important is sleep for a teenage athlete? This summer our son, 15, played on a travel baseball team that played 48 games.

If that wasn't enough, he stayed up late most nights - sometimes as late as 3 a.m., chatting with friends on the computer or watching TV. He had a pretty good season, but I think he could have done better if he'd gotten a little more rest. What do you think?


DEAR DIANNE -- Getting sufficient sleep is an important part of a healthy lifestyle for all ages. Playing 48 games is going to take a lot out of any teenager. That, paired with a lack of sufficient rest, most likely is going to have a negative effect on your son's performance. There are people who have an amazing ability to perform well despite getting little sleep. Most of us aren't built that way.

As a parent, you have every right to monitor your child's personal habits. What you have to be careful of is taking away something that your son enjoys because of baseball. Your best bet is to discuss the situation, perhaps instituting a lights-out time on nights before games and allowing him to stay up later on the other nights, if he adheres to your rules.

I'd like to improve as a hitting instructor. What tools and drills do you recommend?

BOB MOREHEAD, Charlotte, N.C.

DEAR BOB -- The most important thing is to observe first. You can't watch a baseball player hit one time and just start making changes. See what kind of results the hitter gets. If that hitter is very successful, but doesn't do everything exactly by the book, leave him alone. Make notes about the mechanical flaws you see, but save the instruction for when the hitter is going through a difficult time at the plate.

Beyond that, try to keep it simple. Hitting a baseball is perhaps the toughest skill to master in all of sports. The more complicated we make it, the more likely the hitter will be focusing on what you have told him instead of the incoming pitch.

Save your instructing for drill sessions, not live hitting. Use old standby drills such as tee work, soft toss and short toss to tinker with the swing and develop muscle memory. That's what the big leaguers do every single day.

I know you played soccer, so maybe you have some advice that will help. My son is playing in his third season and seems to do everything OK, except for heading the ball. Almost every time he tries to head the ball, it hits him smack in the face. Are there any drills that will help with hitting the ball with the right part of the head?

RANDY STEELE, Evansville, Ind.

DEAR RANDY -- Although I played soccer growing up, I am not a soccer expert. However, baseball deals with similar issues in teaching young kids how to catch properly. Find some kind of softer ball, such as a playground ball or a soft dodge ball, to use with your son. Toss the ball to him softly from a short distance before backing up and throwing the ball higher and higher. Have him work on watching the ball and executing the proper fundamentals - the most important being to get the ball to hit his head in the proper location.

As his confidence builds and he starts to do this correctly (again and again), introduce a real soccer ball. Start with short, low tosses and progress as his confidence and execution improve. If he gets bored, make a game out of it. This approach works well with catching. Let me know how it works for you.

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

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