Create An All-Star Experience

Prior to selecting Post Season tournament teams the first decision is selecting a Manager and the Coaches. All Star Managers and Coaches are entrusted with the league's best youth baseball players and it is the most important and visible leadership position within the league. Players will look to them for direction and encouragement and parents will entrust them with their most precious possession. The Managers and coaches can inspire players who are challenged by other talented teammates to step up their game and perform to the best of their ability. This can begin a trajectory for the entire future - on and off the field.

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When my oldest son was 12 he was a fairly versatile player and would play multiple positions during the season. Consequently it was rare other coaches saw him play the same position twice, and when he made the All-Star team he was, sort of, a player without a position.

After a few practices as the back-up catcher he expressed his frustration to me, and I made the following suggestions. I told Shawn he needed to get their attention by hustling everywhere he went, sit or stand in front when the coach was speaking, make great eye contact, then do exactly what the coach asked. Oh...and hit the heck out of the baseball!

He was always a fairly high achiever prior to that, but he really took
off that summer as a player and a person, His work ethic became a little
better, concentration was more focused, his confidence grew, his desire
to do his very best was more apparent, and his persistence got a little
bit more purposeful. He moved into the starting 3rd base spot, had a
great run in the tournament, hitting as well as he ever had and finding
some power we didn't know was there.

This carried over into the
classroom and ultimately led to

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playing college baseball (and
basketball), while graduating Summa Cum Laude from the University of La
Verne. Many of those accomplishments I attribute to that summer he was
challenged to prove himself and earn the attention and respect of
others.

During the post-season, rules are designed for a more competitive game
and winners may advance while others may be eliminated. The manager will
be faced with difficult choices. Some may pit the natural desire to win
against maintaining an atmosphere that is mutually beneficial to all
children. Other times, they may be challenged to demonstrate respect for
the judgment and authority of the umpire or tournament officials.
Regardless of the challenges faced they have to always keep in mind the
life-lessons learned by all children involved.

At the Little League Western Regional Finals, a very skilled team from
Hawaii had hustled throughout the tournament and in the process of a big
comeback to determine who represented the West in the Little League World Series. With the tying run on 3rd base and 2 outs, a speedy Hawaiian
hit a slow roller and sprinted down the 1st base line creating a close
play at first. As the throw was a little off and the First-Baseman
attempted to tag him, the runner slid head-first and reached the base before
the tag and the umpire signaled "safe!" - just as the runner at third touched home.

As the Hawaiian contingent erupted in cheers - the umpire immediately, and correctly,
noted the Little League rule that prohibits head-first slides into a
base, reversed his call and the runner was ruled out to end the game. The players and
coaches handled the disappointment with honor and graciousness in spite of the controversial conclusion.
This loss apparently fueled their desire, as the next year they came
back to win the Region and get to Williamsport... and a couple years later
the same league ended up winning the entire Little League World Championship.                                  

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How teams handle these setbacks and tough times during the tournament
can effect how well far they advance. A PCA partner from Aliso Viejo,
California was doing great during pool play against other State
champions and in the elimination rounds lost two of the toughest games
possible.

With a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the last inning Aliso Viejo brought in
their closer who was lights out during pool play. He walked the first
batter on a couple pitches that just missed, and the next batter
promptly hit a 2-run home run to win 2-1. The next game the led 5-0 and
had a rough couple innings and ended up losing a heartbreaker 6-5.

After the teams were dismissed, I passed a couple pockets of families
huddled with some of the disappointed Little Leaguers. I heard some of
the best post-game conversations possible. Rather, than second-guessing
decisions or being critical of play, the parents were heard commenting
about "all the good plays we made to get that 5-0 lead" and "remember
the game we won just like that in our last tournament just to get here?"

So
instead of lamenting the loss they were celebrating some other success.
There were certainly thousands of other Little Leaguers that would have
loved to still be playing that late in the post-season. It made me wonder if one of the reasons they were able to advance this far is due to the manner in which they, and those around them, handled both their successes and failures.

There are plenty of lessons learned by the players involved, but those
not involved can learn some valuable lessons too. This is a great time
for those who do not make the Tournament Teams to provide support and
watch the league compete. They may even learn some things while watching
the games, asking questions, and inspiring them to get more coaching to
enable them to have a better chance next year.

Leagues that create togetherness and a family atmosphere are fun for
players to a part of and they enjoy going to support those who did make
the teams, even though they may not be on one of them. At a Positive
Coaching Alliance panel discussion titled "Insights From Sports Experts" Jamal Adams, the
basketball coach from Loyola High School in Los Angeles, had some poignant
comments how special it is when participants get the feeling of being
apart of something bigger than themselves.

On the other hand, at the same event John Moore, the Athletic Director
at Westmont College in Santa Barbara California made some great
observations about the difference between being "a part of something"
and being "apart from something".

Due to the challenges faced in the post-season and the tremendous amount
of learning opportunities, the process of selecting managers, coaches,
and players should be handled with great attention to detail. Because
the Tournament Teams are selected to represent the league to the larger
community, many leagues look at this as an opportunity to allow players,
managers, coaches, and board members to cast a vote towards nominating
participants - players and coaches.

Little League recommends selecting managers using a two-step process - First, allow the players,
managers and coaches in the division to select the managers and coaches
for the tournament team. Second, the local league board of directors
should review these selections to ensure that individuals selected did
not violate any league policies, guidelines or have other concerns with
the selection.

As part of that second step Positive Coaching Alliance offers some tools
for leagues to use that may assist in the process. Double-Goal Coach®
Job Descriptions
can be distributed prior to the start of each season.
This Job Description tells coaches "You are the most important person in
our organization. You determine the kind of experience our athletes
have with sports." It sets the expectation for the coach to prepare the
team to Strive to Win, while teaching Life Lessons by Redefining
Winning
, Filling Emotional Tanks, and Honoring the Game.

Positive Coaching Alliance partners are also presented with Coach Evaluations that can be used to survey the players and parents to assess
how well their coach met this Job Description. The league's Board of
Directors can then use the results of this evaluation to help inform the
approval process and ensure the coach will represent the league in the
best manner possible and provide the best overall experience for the
participants.

It is recommended the selection method be established prior to the
regular season and is communicated to all players, parents, volunteers,
managers and coaches - even posted on the leagues website. This helps
avoid controversy later on in the season. Some leagues choose a more
"objective" method to simplify the process and just award the Tournament
Teams to those who win their divisions, pending board approval.

Regardless of the method used for selection, personal agendas,
friendships, and loyalties need to be set aside for the greater good and
everyone should be aligned with the same mission - to select the best
team to advance in tournament play and represent the league while
respecting the ROOTS of positive play.

The acronym ROOTS provides such a great guideline for competition, and
life, that All Star players and coaches can actually use to get the best
performance possible while Making the Game better. As Second-Goal Parents, these are

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also at the "ROOTS" of the life-lessons we should be most concerned with when it comes to our children's participation.

Players and
coaches obviously need to respect the Rules of the game,  but we are not only talking about those rules. The coach has established rules & guidelines as well.  For example, if a first baseman charges a bunt the second baseman covers first. Specific players may need to get in cutoff position or back-up throws. It's a defensive principle that establishes the rules play. If players follow the rules of competition the
coach has established they will play as clean a game as possible. 

Respect for the Opponents ensures that every game will be looked at as a
quality opponent that is a gift that will bring out the teams best.
When Officials are respected, players and coaches are more able to focus
on the next play, "flush" the previous one and it actually Fills the
umpires Emotional Tank - probably leading to a better performance by the umpire
on future plays.

Learning teamwork is most often a parents main desire for their child to learn through their involvement in youth sports. It's important players develop a healthy respect for their Teammates. Players must show this respect and be considerate of their teammates inside and outside the lines.

Possibly the most important thing to remember is the respect for Self.
We hear coaches tell players all the time, "Play your best and don't
play down to an inferior opponent"
. Well, behavior should be the same.
All Stars should have enough respect for Self to set high standards of
play and give their best effort, regardless of the opponent or even if
others are not giving their best. They also should set high standards of
behavior and act their best by Honoring the Game - even when others are
not. If they can build this habit from T-Ball to Tournament Team to
whenever the ball stops bouncing, they'll have developed the habit of
performing their very best, regardless of the situation, and behaving
their very best - even if their peers are not.

One thing I do notice is at these later rounds of post-season play is
how impressed I am with the behavior of the players, not only during the
game, but mingling around the fields as well. This means one of three
things. Either those leagues don't have any players in their league that
have behavior issues, which probably isn't statistically probable. The
second possibility is that the league just doesn't select any players
who have character issues, which might be true - but not entirely
likely. Most conceivable, I think, is that players that are not mentally tough
with great leadership from their coaches and support from their parents
just don't win enough to make it that far.

When we've built these habits through sports, and developed a respect
for the "ROOTS", we've done our job in not only teaching the game, but
helping to create major league people.

And they thought they were just
playing a game.

CHICAGO TRIBUNE VIDEO

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    I enjoyed reading this blog post. I think we contribute far more to the development of young athletes when we helped them to see the bigger picture at what is involved in wins and losses. Coaches and parents should always be on the look out for character-building opportunities. I look forward to reading other posts.

  • John, You're 100% correct. Sports provide a never-ending procession of teachable moments with opportunities that reveal, and are able to build character. We all need to take advantage of each and every one.

    Thanks for reading.

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