Read The Matheny Manifesto

Mike Matheny’s book is the best book I’ve ever read on youth sports.
Matheny is the current manager of the St. Louis Cardinals and a retired catcher who played 13 seasons for four teams, winning four Gold Glove awards for his defensive prowess behind the plate.  He replaced legendary manager Tony LaRussa in 2012 and won the National League pennant in 2013.
In 2008, between his playing days and his managing career, he was asked to coach his son’s youth baseball team.  He agreed, but only if the parents agreed to a set of rules or operating procedures that has since been codified as the ‘Matheny Manifesto’.  The manifesto can be downloaded in pdf.  Essentially, Matheny wanted to make sure the parents understood that, if he was going to do this, he was going to do it right – meaning he was going to take the opportunity to build the character of the kids on the team.  Shortly after giving this speech to the parents of his son’s team, the manifesto went viral on Facebook.  Matheny’s book includes the manifesto, how his experience in youth and professional sports resulted in this philosophy, and expands into other areas of life that sports can contribute.
Highlights of the manifesto:
  • It starts with this:  “I’ve always said I would coach only a team of orphans.  Why?  Because the biggest problem in youth sports is the parents”.
  • “I believe biggest role a parent can play is to be a silent source of encouragement”.
  • “Attitude, concentration, and effort are three things they can control”.  You know I love this quote – he essentially said my Hustle & Attitude pitch…I had been coaching for several years by the time he said it; so I’m guessing I said it first!
  • “I know times have changed, but one of the greatest lessons my father taught me was that my coach was always right-even when he was wrong”.
  • “There’s never an excuse for a lack of hustle on a baseball field”.
Concluding the opening chapter introducing the manifesto, Matheny says “Only a miniscule fraction of the boys and girls you and I coach will ever make a living or even put themselves through college as athletes.  But they can all become better men and women if we can instill in them values they can apply in the workplace, in their homes and families, and in their communities”.  AMEN BROTHER!
The book is then broken into 3 parts:  The Problem, A Better Way, and The Keys to Success.  Highlights of each part include:

Part 1 – The Problem
  • “Somehow, the more organized sports became, the more they became about the parents and not about the kids”.
  • Explaining that some parents were OK leaving a team where they “put less emphasis on winning, refused to dominate other teams, and purposely moved players around in what appeared to be nonsensical lineups”.
  • In explaining how parents can reduce the pressure on their kids by being “just a spectator and fan of your child doing something that he loves” instead of being “the world’s best cheerleader”, Matheny says about kids “He has the rest of his life to learn about real pressure and disappointment.  Let him have fun”.

Part 2 – A Better Way

  • “Our sole desire was and still is to use the arena of youth sports-in our case, baseball-to teach kids the game, encourage them to love it, and set them on a course toward becoming responsible members of society”. WOW!
  • On playing multiple positions:  “I did push the kids on our youth team to try new positions at least once”, “I do believe kids should start specializing in certain positions at some point, but not until they are well into their teenage years”, and “Please let them play all the positions at the beginning stages of their games, and I’m talking about more than tee ball”.
  • Matheny has a chapter where he goes through Hall of Fame basketball coach John Wooden’s maxims, including one of my favorites:  “The best competition I have is against myself to become better”.

Part 3 – The Keys to Success; in this part of the book, Matheny goes through his experiences and how they have shaped his youth sports philosophy (fans of the University of Michigan and the St. Louis Cardinals will enjoy these sections)

  1. Leadership
  2. Confidence
  3. Teamwork; “Many coaches don’t leave families any room to enjoy their summers aside from the baseball schedule.  Try to remember that these kids have these summer breaks for only a few years”.
  4. Faith; another thing I appreciate about Matheny is he is a Christian.  In this section, he explains that he doesn’t openly evangelize as a youth coach (or Cardinals manager for that matter), but that his faith is important to him and he will never shy away from it.
  5. Class; “Resign yourself to the fact that by and large the umpiring at the lower levels is going to be bad, and set your team’s expectations accordingly” and “usually bad umpiring is not intentional”.
  6. Character; on page 182 (of the hardcover version I have), Matheny comments how it seemed that everywhere his team went they heard positive comments about the boys’ “hustle and discipline” and later he explains that it wasn’t about “attracting only the best talent” but “this was all about attitude“.  Any questions why I really like his philosophy?
  7. Toughness; in this chapter Matheny relates his own story dealing with concussions that forced him to retire.  Further, he describes the situation “Kids in youth sports think they’re invincible” and “it falls to us adults to do the right thing…to guarantee that nothing close to what happened to me-and so many others-ever happens to a player who has been entrusted to us”.  I particularly like the way he puts the last part…players who are entrusted to us.
  8. Humility

There are only two areas where I slightly disagree with Matheny:  participation trophies and player selection.
I have written about my position on participation trophies before.  Matheny is against them; suggesting that it is OK for a child’s first or second year of organized sports, but “at a certain age there is way too much to learn from loss and failure to let kids continue thinking that everyone should get a trophy, even when they finish in last place”.  He goes on to say that a participation ribbon or certificate would be OK, but not a trophy.  As I have said before, I agree that sports provides life lessons on how to win graciously and not be a sore loser.  As for the harsh realities of the world, I say let the kids be kids and they’ll learn the harsh realities when they get to high school.  And, essentially, Matheny’s concession about certificates or ribbons means he’s all for all players getting something at the end of the year, just not trophies.  He makes a distinction between trophies – which should go to the winners – and certificates and ribbons.  I think the hubbub about participation trophies is blown out of proportion; it’s not that big a deal.
As for our differences on player selection; it really boils down to the type of leagues we’re talking about.  Matheny describes having to tell players they weren’t welcome on the team anymore because they didn’t appear to have the desire to put the effort required to be on the team.  Well, that sounds like a select or travel team.  My philosophy is specifically intended for youth recreational sports .  In recreational sports, no child is turned away.  Every child that joins the team makes the team and the Hustle & Attitude philosophy is that they play equal amounts of time at multiple positions.  What is encouraging is the significant overlap between the Hustle & Attitude philosophy and Matheny’s philosophy (see all the highlights above) and how many of the principles apply to select and travel leagues as well as recreational leagues.
In summary, if you care about youth sports at all, I recommend you read Matheny’s book.  His manifesto is all about providing positive experiences for youth in sports (just like the Hustle & Attitude philosophy).

Another NFL Great Recommends Kids Don’t Play Tackle Football Before Junior High School

In this piece from the Orlando Sentinel, George Diaz quotes former Miami Dolphin great Larry Csonka as saying “Kids shouldn’t play tackle football until junior high…” and cites lack of qualified coaches and proper equipment as reasons.  The link includes a video of Nick Buoniconti’s son (Buoniconti is another Dolphin legend) talking about the struggles his father is going through after playing football for so many years.  The piece also mentions Buoniconti’s other son, Mark, who was paralyzed playing college football.

I continue to recommend flag football for youth prior to high school.

Should Your Child Specialize in One Sport?

Sports specialization in youth sports is a hot topic.  I came across an article in USA Today’s High School Sports section highlighting that 30 of the 32 first round picks in the last week’s NFL draft played multiple sports in high school.  While reading the article, there were links to two others on the subject.  One that presented the data from an NCAA survey of over 21,000 Division I, II, and III athletes.  The other presented results from research that indicated that single sport athletes were twice as likely to suffer a lower-body injury than multi-sport athletes.  What does the Hustle & Attitude philosophy say about the subject.

 


 

What do Hustle & Attitude parents and coaches do with respect to sports specialization?

Recall that the Hustle & Attitude (H&A)  philosophy is a youth recreational sports philosophy.  This implies that it is not conducive to sports specialization in that the typical specialization scenario – at least in the team sports like baseball, basketball, soccer, lacrosse, etc. – is that the child plays for the local (often school-affiliated) team in season and then for a travel or select team in the off-season.  This often makes for a year-round commitment to the sport.  [As an aside, my friend’s son – and his family – have worked hard to play school and select soccer and school and select baseball leading up to and all through high school.  In a sense, he ‘specialized’ in two sports!]  Given the typical scenario, H&A parents and coaches wouldn’t have the choice about specialization because they would be involved in rec leagues.

In light of the benefits of playing multiple sports espoused in the “Few Surprises” article:

  • Less potential for burnout
  • Accumulating cross sport skills, and
  • Reducing overuse injuries – think pitchers in baseball, see John Smoltz’s recommendation – or injuries at all as the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health study indicates)

It would seem playing in rec leagues (or finding corresponding in-season and off-season sports like my friend’s son did) would be recommended.  [Although, truth in advertising, my friend’s son did have Tommy John surgery to repair his elbow during his junior year at the age of 17.]  The core of the H&A philosophy is to provide positive youth recreational sports experiences for our children.  Although many H&A families wouldn’t be faced with the question because their child wouldn’t be playing on a travel or select team, I could see, and indeed have seen, children and families that have had positive experiences while specializing in one sport.   [To close these parenthetical asides about my friend and his son; I don’t think he or his parents regret ‘specializing’ in soccer and baseball for the last 6-7 years, even considering the Tommy John surgery.]

So long as the child is having a positive experience, perhaps specialization is OK.  However, my personal belief is that playing more sports is beneficial to the development of our kids.


I need to get on a little rant here (anyone remember Dennis Miller’s show on HBO?)…

We need to stop using college and professional football players as our examples of why kids don’t need to specialize in sports in order to succeed (where the general public definition of success is getting a scholarship).  The USA Today articles highlight the NFL draft picks and how Ohio State football coach Urban Meyer has repeatedly said he only recruits multi-sport athletes.  Well, duh!  It should not come as a surprise to anyone that college-level football players played multiple sports in high school.  To make it to the collegiate level in football, the young men were obviously very athletic.  Unlike the sports I mentioned above in the specialization scenarios, there is no travel or select football.  I know, I know, if you’re reading this in Texas or Alabama, you’re thinking “There ain’t no offseason for football, yankee!”  First of all, I apologize for the gross generalization of how folks from Texas or Alabama talk.  Also, I’m from Arizona and a Red Sox fan, so I’m not a Yankee.  Anyway, I agree there are spring drills, and 7-on-7 and passing leagues in the spring/summer.  However, think about it; even with the offseason football activities, there is ample time for these high-caliber athletes to play other sports competitively.  As the data in the USA Today article indicates, track and field and basketball are high on the list of sports football players also play.  And based on my high school experience and watching my boys’ classmates, I would suggest wrestling is also a natural sport that football players gravitate towards as it is very complimentary of the skills, strength, and endurance required in football.

Let’s stop touting football players as our example of why children shouldn’t specialize in a single sport.  The general concern is not that football players specialize – again, they kind of can’t – it’s the travel and select baseball, basketball, soccer, and lacrosse leagues that offer our kids the opportunity (challenge?) to play one sport year round.  I appreciate the message.  I agree that children shouldn’t feel the need to specialize – certainly before high school.  However, we need examples of baseball, basketball, and/or soccer players who benefited from playing multiple sports.  Stop with the football examples.

When the Right Strategy is Wrong for Kids

Our friends at GameChanger included an article about a new Little League Baseball rule change in their Season newsletter.  The rule change is related to how intentional walks are handled in Little League.  Specifically, under the new rule, managers will declare they want to intentionally walk the batter and the pitcher will automatically have four pitches added to their pitch count.  This is not immaterial as Little League Baseball has mandatory pitch limits based on the age of the pitchers.  The article describes a situation where a manager in last year’s Little League World Series (of which I have already written about my mixed feelings) denied an intentional walk by instructing his batter to swing.  This was done to get the starting pitcher over his pitch count limit – forcing the opposing manager to replace the pitcher.  The manager who declined the intentional walk is quoted as saying “We’re trying to win” and “It was just strategy“.  It worked in this case as his team rallied against the new pitcher to win the game.  But is it appropriate for kids 11-13 years old?
I have written about my philosophy about youth recreational sports .  Further, in my coaching clinics, I tell the coaches that we are playing to win, but that we’re doing so with other higher priorities.  Specifically, the priorities are that every child plays an equal amount (over the season) and every child gets a chance to play multiple positions (again, over the whole season).  Hustle & Attitude coaches don’t measure the success of their season by wins and losses and tournaments won, but in terms of whether the athletes want to play again the following season.  Within the season, the measure of success is whether each player had fun, learned how to play the game, and got better at playing the game throughout the season.  Does the above situation – denying an intentional walk deliberately to increase an opposing pitcher’s pitch count – fit with the Hustle & Attitude philosophy?  I don’t know that I would go so far as to say it runs contrary to the philosophy, but I know that I wouldn’t have done it.
I appreciate Little League Baseball’s attempts to encourage positive experiences for young baseball players.  They have mandatory playing time rules.  Pitch counts show appropriate concern for the young players’ health.  However, there is still room for coaches to behave poorly.  Specifically, instructing their players to do things that will contribute to the team winning, but are contrary to actually learning how to play the game correctly.  I can remember a game while I was coaching in Marlins Little League Picturethe El Segundo, California Little League where the opposing manager was instructing or encouraging – I’m not sure, but let’s say I know he wasn’t discouraging – his players to just keep running to second on a walk.  The batter would take ball four and then sprint to first base and while the catcher was throwing the ball back to the pitcher, would take a turn and break for second base.  This was an attempt to take advantage of the fact that 8- and 9-year old recreational baseball players have trouble reliably throwing and catching the ball.  The pitcher would have to catch the ball, then turn and successfully throw the ball to the second baseman or shortstop covering at second who would, in turn, have to catch the ball and make a successful tag.  In response to seeing this a couple of times, I instructed my catcher to walk the ball back to the pitcher while staring down the base runner.  Does this sound like baseball to you?  Of course not.  Did the opposing manager’s ‘strategy’ increase his chances of winning?  Sure.  He’d often get a runner in scoring position with each walk.
Strategies like the ones above fit into a mentality that teach the wrong lessons to the children playing the game and often can lead to more insidious strategies like losing on purpose for tournament seeding.  These are not in keeping with a desire to provide a positive experience for the youth participating in sports.  Hustle & Attitude coaches do not coach that way.  Rather than declining an intentional walk, I would recommend the batter take their base and encourage the next batter to do their best to drive the runners in.  Easy for me to say…I’ve never been coaching with a Little League World Series game on the line.  Regardless, I would suggest to you that our team was more successful that year than many of the teams in the Little League World Series any year.  The players had fun.  They learned how to play the game (the appropriate way).  They got better throughout the season.  And, to my recollection, all of them came back to play the following season (many of them requested to play on my team).

1st Time Flag Football Coaches Found My Clinic Very Useful

FFF Coaching Spring Clinics

Last month I held six clinics for Flag Football Fanatics coaches in the Columbus, Dayton, and Cincinnati areas.  46 coaches participated in the clinics covering all aspects of coaching in the Flag Football Fanatics league.

I sent a survey to the coaches that participated.  78% of those responding to the survey indicated the material was Very Useful to them.  The overall average response to the question asking the coaches to rate the usefulness of the information on a scale of 1-5 (‘Not Useful’ to ‘Incredibly Useful’) was 4.02 (‘Very Useful’).

FurSpring Clinic Pic 1ther, first year Flag Football Fanatics coaches (my target audience with the Hustle & Attitude clinics) scored the clinics 4.15, taking a particular liking to the discussions concerning the Equipment and dealing with parents and referees.  Coaches who were coaching youth recreational sports for the first time found the clinics even more useful – their scores averaging 4.67!


One coach left this feedback:  “It was a really good session. You have great perspective about the purpose of rec sports and how to talk and encourage kids (get down on one knee and not coaching my kid different than others). Good humor and you helped me get my head around the big picture of coaching kids. It was time well spent – I would recommend to any new coach”.


This is the second season that I have provided coaching clinics for the Flag Football Fanatics folks.  99 coaches have been exposed to the Hustle & Attitude philosophy as it applies to their specific league.  I look forward to spreading the word about best practices in providing positive experiences for children in youth sports through more clinics and this blog (and maybe a book!).

6 Steps to Success for High School Student Athletes

6-steps-book-coverMy dad bought me a book about preparing high school athletes for success.  The book is called 6 Steps to Success for High School Student-Athletes and is written by Alonzo Barkley.  Barkley is a former college and professional basketball player that now coaches high school in Alabama.

Although my focus is on youth recreational sports – essentially for children younger than high school age, many of the recommendations Barkley makes in his book are still appropriate.  As a Christian myself, I also appreciate the value Barkley places on his faith in becoming a successful student athlete.  The 6 steps are:

  1. Placing God First
  2. Learning How to Respect Authority
  3. Competing Academically
  4. Falling in Love with the Sport
  5. How to Beware of Distractions from Destiny
  6. Handling Success When it Comes

Steps numbers 2, 4, and 6 are right in line with the Hustle & Attitude methodology.  Reading the book reminded me that, even though most youth recreational sports leagues aren’t directly associated with a school; the children that participate are still students and are therefore student-athletes.  I will write more in the future about my beliefs with respect to youth recreational sports and the young student-athlete.  Step 5 is probably more geared towards a high school athlete in terms of the types of distractions that might tempt a student-athlete.

I recommend this book for middle school and early high school athletes and the coaches and parents who mentor them.  There is practical and inspirational guidance that can help them all succeed in sports, academics, and more.

 

 

Youth Football Participation Goes Up?!?!

Will Smith Say What

Minus the sweet shirt and the high fade, this is how I looked when I read the article from the New York Times citing a survey showing that participation in youth football grew – and grew more than any other U.S. sport!


Several of my previous posts have highlighted that player safety concerns might result in fewer families deciding that their sons should play youth tackle football.  Well, the survey of 30,000 children and teens (part of the annual Physical Activity Council Participation Report) found that participation in flag and tackle football increased in 2015 while most other sports, except baseball, saw a decline in participation.  What’s surprising to me is that participation in youth tackle football rose last year – albeit modestly.  Tom Farrey, executive director of the Aspen Institute’s Sports & Society Program (@AspenInstSports on Twitter) cites the 2007 baby boom as a possible explanation.  Recall that my last post mentioned the same baby boom and how births every year since have gone down which might lead to a decrease in participation numbers.

I’ve said it before; I love football.  I played in high school.  My sons both played flag and tackle football.  However, knowing what we know now about the safety concerns, caution is certainly warranted in allowing our children to play tackle football.  USA Football’s Chief Executive said he believes that medically endorsed programs like the Heads Up Football program and practice guidelines “are making a positive difference”.  We’ll have to see how participation in youth football grows or shrinks over the next few years to understand the true trends and impact of these and other initiatives.

I continue to recommend flag football for youth before high school and, for youth that play tackle football before high school, their coaches should be trained properly and there should be athletic trainers present at practices and games.

Interesting Explanation for Drop in Youth Sports Participation

I ran across a post recently from Bob Cook.  Cook is a youth sports contributor to Forbes.com (I checked out other posts on his blog and I recommend it).  He writes that there might be another reason behind the statistic that the numbers of children between 6 and 17 participating in youth sports is down 4% compared to 2009; specifically demographics.  He points out that the number of births has declined every year from 2008 – 2012.  Could be that there are simply fewer youths to play sports.


To me, this points out the need for digging deeper into the statistics that we are often presented as justification for positions (particularly timely in an election year, right?).  Cook’s analysis points out that I would want to see the data for 6-17 year olds participating in youth sports on the same graphic as one depicting the total number of 6-17 year olds.  If the decline in youth sports participation looks similar to the drop in overall 6-17 year old children, then perhaps demographics could explain the drop in participation.  However, it is my belief that many of the reasons cited in the Washington Post article  Cook refers to – economics, the rise of competitive travel/select teams, etc. – are likely at least as explanatory as any drop in the population of 6-17 year olds.

What do you think?

Sports Illustrated Likes My Football Letter!

8 Feb SI CoverEver been driven to write a strongly worded letter?  Well, two weeks ago I reacted that way when I read the Scorecard section in Sports Illustrated.  John Wertheim asked Los Angeles Rams owner Stan Kroenke “What do you see as the biggest issue facing the NFL?”  Kroenke responded “labor stability and our television contracts”.  I reacted to Kroenke’s answer by sending SI a letter (you actually send them an e-mail…ah, technology!).  And in this week’s issue (the cover is on the left), they printed my letter (see below).

My SI Comment

The study I cite is from aBloomberg Poll Graphic December 2014 Bloomberg poll (see results in the graph to the right).  As I have said before, I believe the NFL needs to focus on player safety.  NFL owners may rightly be concerned today with nearer term issues like renegotiating TV contracts and continued labor stability with the players; but if half of the potential player pool disappears, they will have longer term issues to tackle.