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Belmont Bandits 11U baseball team

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Texas Hold 'em

Apr. 5, 2019

We are set to play this weekend and are anxious to get ready for play. We may win some, and we may lose some. I am excited to see everyone that comes out to support us. There is a lot of preparation that goes into these weekends, and the roller coaster of emotion that it sends us all on is a pretty cheap ticket in all actuality. Travel ball weekends are better than any $10 movie I’ve seen in the last ten or twenty years. Forgive my stream of consciousness drivel. I don’t like to spell check or re-read much of this stuff. Sometimes I stay up too late, too…and this is what comes out.

There is a big tournament going on in the Charlotte area with another organization this weekend – and there are a lot of extremely good teams participating. I would estimate that 95% (or more) of those participating teams’ rosters are made up with players from areas that are at least 100 square miles or greater. We play against many of these teams every weekend, and we will see them at “travel” events in Myrtle Beach, Charleston (Shipyard), Pigeon Forge and Savannah. Consider that our neighboring city of Gastonia is the largest city in Gaston County at 46 square miles, and most of these teams we are talking about are from areas much larger than what a Gastonia All Star Travel team would be if constructed similarly. This does not mean those teams shouldn’t be proud of how good they are, or any accomplishment. It’s just a reminder to us parents of how our team is purposely built, and that we ask our boys to rise to great occasions numerous times during our baseball season. Belmont is 10 square miles. Our families on this team live within about 3 square miles of each other. Please take the time to show your appreciation to your boy(s) about how much is expected on a daily basis at such a young age in a sport. I feel like Tom Cruise in Jerry Maguire…. It’s a Mission Statement…..NAY! It’s my Manifesto.

All of our kids play multiple sports. There are a lot of newcomers to our town, and many think it’s a football town. It IS….but it was a baseball town first. Go look at the banners. It is a football and baseball small town. Still – even amidst the concussion scares and expert head injury armchair doctors that work a day job, football continues to thrive in our town. All of our players play football. Many of them do other sports throughout the year in the respective seasons:  soccer, basketball, swimming and motocross. So, this ongoing debate from random “baseball” people who are overnight sensations in the realm of arm care, medicine, psychology and professional baseball preparedness is maddening. You think you can hurt a kid’s arm throwing curve balls, or throwing too many pitches in a “weekend” of games? Sure… you can over an extended period of time. I’ve coached against people/teams for about fifteen years now and have seen plenty of that. The team that trots out a “curve baller” who throws it 75% of the time. In another time (when pitch count limits only existed in Little League) travel ball teams would ride one main pitcher to four wins per weekend. There’s a little truth in most everything in life if you look hard enough to find it. I’ve seen a whole lot of other players from teams we faced every weekend go on to have significant arm troubles as they got into their teens. But, do you want to know the real problem…from one armchair QB who doesn’t know anything to another….(you)…..here it is:

Playing baseball for 9-10 months out of the year is the problem and main reason these arm issues continue.  “Training” during the 2-3 months off from baseball when you play 9-10 months already is the problem. Not developing other muscle groups and interests is the problem. One of my favorites…playing on 2-3 teams simultaneously just to make sure you are constantly playing (and maybe being the #1 pitcher on two of those teams maxing out the pitch count for the respective tournament) is the problem;  we all know the parents who play on multiple teams – whose fault is it really when that kid’s arm breaks down at age 14-15?  It isn’t the coach who threw him 7 innings once a week in Middle School. It isn’t the coach who threw him 8 innings over a two-day period in travel ball. The kids that I’ve seen with real arm problems have one thing in common: 

They played too much baseball without any true breaks away from the game. The physical toll it takes on a body, and in a game that is failure-riddled even for the very best of players, it takes a mental toll on the mind. It breaks down great athletes in the Major Leagues every year…why would some random 11 year old kid be any different? So, year round baseball….I appreciate the hustle. But – don’t be surprised when the second Tommy John surgery happens at age 20.

Practice is paramount. We have not had nearly enough practice this year for my liking, but weather is a great equalizer in life for many situations. We aren’t a “facility” team. Again….nothing wrong with those teams that are;  we just aren’t. I spoke of expectations previously. A big part of how and why we operate is designed to NOT burn out kids from baseball. We practice hard, we practice with a purpose and results show positively more often than not. But, our coaches and parents are not contemplating a college or pro career for their player at age 11. We don’t have a young Ken Griffey Jr or Mike Trout for anyone reading this as a scouting report. If you have really been around any actual baseball, you know that the “can’t miss” guy will miss, and that the progression as a baseball player is a marathon…not a sprint. Now, in a practice, I would estimate that our players throw a baseball as hard as they can at least one-hundred times minimum in a (roughly) two hour practice. To date I haven’t seen the picket signs out protesting this across the country like the pitch/inning count people do. I am for pitch/inning counts, and about all the ones I’ve seen in place in various leagues and organizations are just fine. But, as a parent or coach, if you’re worried about a “pitch" or  a "throw” count….if you’re REALLY worried about that…then you need to hang up your spikes. The teams that are really good, made up of highly skilled players…sometimes with a lot of talent and ALWAYS with competitive parents – seem to be most interested in pitch counts, but also practice the most throughout any given year. I guarantee you those teams practice more than 95% of other teams their same age (11u, HS, whatever age). Seems antithetical that those same parents worried about arm care also put the most time in throwing a baseball. So, the picket sign people might as well start considering “throw counts” in there too, because pitching off that nice ledge, downhill gives you a whole lot easier delivery of a thrown ball than generating 100% arm/body action on a ground ball hit into a tough spot on the infield. Just one or two of the throws that require immense torque and un-natural movement of a play made there should scare the daylights out of anyone seriously worried about “arm care” and "baseball futures". Practicing some of those tough plays, and throws, doesn’t seem to jive with the very same people I know are putting more practice in than others. So….you say “practice smarter – not harder”. Let's give the actual professionals - who have put in 100,000 reps of the same movement that responsibility, because their devotion and ability is obviously different than a young player's situation. Somebody is already working smarter AND harder. My point is….most boys/young men have about 10 years to play baseball. So if you want to practice, pitch, swing and throw....go do it. There are 1000s of small colleges around, so if you’ve got enough skill/talent combo and and “in” somewhere, you can go play college baseball if you were a top 3-4 player on a really good HS team. A pitcher throws with his whole body...not just one arm. Nobody is championing the poor hitters of baseball for overuse of the hips and shoulders when they take 500 cuts per day. But, if you are worried about arm care at age 11, 12, 13….let’s call a spade a spade. You think you have a lottery ticket, and are hell- bent on not leaving it in your jeans for the wash. The self-righteousness and mass delusion in all of this leaves me puzzled.

Maybe I’m revolutionary in this thinking (I’m not…sarcasm) but throwing a baseball in an overhand motion is an un-natural movement. If you do an un-natural movement far too many times, for far too long a period of time you just may crack the piston. So, people with arm strengthening programs may work….or they may not. Results usually tell the tale. I have good friends that I totally disagree with their throwing program. They’re smart, have put a whole lot of time and study into what they believe to be doing right. Who am I to judge? Who am I not to judge? We are still allowed opinions, so I will choose to deliver mine. I totally understand that my theory goes against what is popularly accepted as gospel regarding arm care these days, but pitching nine innings over a two-day span – whether it’s 40 pitches or 240 pitches- is fine. Over 15 years coaching baseball and multi-hundreds of players, I’ve never had one arm problem. I’m not bragging…that stat could flip tomorrow. I take a practical, old school method to playing baseball and I do so unapologetically. My case study will go on as I continue to observe and care for my players as young men, and not as potential $100,000 poker chips.




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