To improve young athletes' reflexes, nothing beats playing the game

ASK CAL

Commentary

November 19, 2006|By CAL RIPKEN JR.

DEAR CAL -- My grandson is 11 years old and seems to be a very good athlete. He plays basketball, football and baseball, although I think baseball is his favorite. Are there any exercises to improve his reflexes?

Carolyn Dotterer, Towson

DEAR CAROLYN -- While I'm sure that there are plenty of scientifically proven methods of improving a young person's reflexes, I don't think that anything takes the place of having a child actually participating in the sports that he or she enjoys. If your grandson has a sport that he likes playing during each season of the year, his motor skills, coordination, athleticism and reflexes are going to develop naturally over time.

You probably can find a local fitness professional or strength and conditioning coach who might have specific drills or exercises designed to improve reflexes. But be careful. You don't want to make sports seem too much like work for an 11-year-old. Let him keep playing and enjoying the sports that interest him, and I'm sure his reflexes will continue to develop and improve over time.

DEAR CAL -- How do you feel about segregating young athletes by their ability? On our junior high boys basketball teams, everyone who signs up plays. There were too many boys for one team last year, so the boys were separated by ability into two teams. There were some boys on the A team who ended up being benchwarmers and this year do not want to try out for the A team and in turn automatically will be placed on the B team, where they'll get more playing time. The B team athletes were given equal playing time.

Colette Machowski, Chicago

DEAR COLETTE -- A junior high boys basketball team - and I'm going to assume that we are talking about kids who are age 13 or 14 - should be most concerned with helping kids develop and learn how to play the game of basketball. At the high school level the game certainly becomes more serious and more based on merit. Winning a basketball game takes on more importance. That's just the nature of sports.

At the junior high level I like to see kids get the opportunity to play. I like the idea of separating into two teams to give more kids that opportunity. It seems like the A team was more concerned about winning, while the B team was more concerned with development. I'm an advocate of kids at this level developing their skills. I would tend to err more on the side of development and worry less about winning. I really like giving each kid a chance to play.

DEAR CAL -- I have coached Cal Ripken Baseball the past four years. Next year my son moves up to Babe Ruth, where he will have to adjust from pitching from 46 feet to pitching from 60 feet, 6 inches. Do you think a transition between those distances could help for that 13-to-14 age group?

John Slavik, St. Leonard

DEAR JOHN -- I'm a big advocate of gradually stepping up in baseball. If given my druthers, I'd rather have 60-foot diamonds, 70-foot diamonds, 80-foot diamonds and 90-foot diamonds. Right now I think the 70-foot diamonds exist mainly because the 12-year-olds want to play a more realistic brand of baseball and that seems to be the right size for that age group.

But, the most important and difficult jump up is when kids move to the big diamond. That was the most difficult jump for me. I initially made my high school varsity team as a second baseman because I couldn't throw from the farther distance consistently enough to compete at that level as a shortstop. It is a big jump, especially for the kids who are 13. That 13-14 age group really could benefit from playing on the 80-foot diamonds that are used in some parts of the country.

The problem is that it can be hard to adapt the field sizes when fields are used for different age groups. We have designed our smaller fields so that they still have grass infields and can accommodate 60- and 70-foot bases. The same can be done so that the base path on bigger fields can be set at 80 or 90 feet. I definitely advocate the 80-foot distance, and we are working on implementing that.

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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