In Search of the Close-to-Perfect League

Is your organization the model? Let the Sporting Dad know.


I'm on a mission. This winter I am in search of the close-to-perfect youth sports league. I've received a couple of emails from organizations within our listening area claiming to have possession of the ring holding the keys to such a place. While I’ll never give up on my quest to find perfection, it’s unlikely to exist as long as we continue to waste time and energy by arguing, choosing sides, and battling self-serving agendas (some would categorize this as a board meeting). I’ve often wondered if our kids would actually find it more enjoyable and therapeutic to get together at the field, “choose-up” teams, and play until it’s too dark to see the ball.

OK, enough of that cynical attitude (for now). We're here to work together on this. And besides, why tease our children with perfection at such a young age?

What I would like from you, my faithful readers, are the reasons why you think your league should be held as a model for all to admire. Put your thoughts together in an email and send it off to: ron.goralski@snet.net. Please put “Working on Perfect” in the subject line of your email. A panel of 10 unsuspecting tweens and teens will choose our winner. That organization will then be presented with the "First Annual Working on Perfect Award" (probably a framed certificate to display at your organization’s world headquarters) and be featured in this very column (and become my Facebook friend). I can already feel the excitement building!

I have also sent out questionnaires to more than 100 past and present youth sport coaches to help identify some of the most important issues, topics, and dilemmas facing youth leagues today. If you are a coach or league administrator and would like to participate, please email me as well (put "Coach Questionnaire" on the subject line, please) and include the name of the town, league and your position. In the following weeks I’ll be sharing some of those results as well as generating a questionnaire for parents.

As we begin to shift into our problem-solving mode, let's be clear about one thing: It's quite alright to go into a discussion at one end and come out of it somewhere else. There’s a wonderful exercise called “brainstorming” — and discouraging constructive criticism is much like severing a direct artery to progress and overall improvement.

I like to believe that my own thoughts and ideas are constantly evolving. I've voted on certain rules and regulations only to realize after watching them play out and collecting feedback that perhaps there is a better way.

Let's start off with a little "soft toss" for the Little League Baseball diehards among us. I have a few changes that I’d like Little League Baseball to make mandatory. Here are my proposals and the reasoning behind them.

1. All batting helmets must be outfitted with face guards. In Little League the pitcher is only 45 feet from the batter. The reaction time for the batter is around one-half of a second. The average reaction time of a human is about 3/4 of a second. Have you ever heard of Jacques Plante? In 1959 he became the first NHL goalie to wear a face mask in a regular-season game. Now every goalie in the world wears one.

2. All hitters and pitchers must wear chest guards. I'd have to guess that the pitcher has much less time to react to a hard hit ball considering where he lands after his follow through. He’s an easy target! Is there anything wrong with erring on the side of safety? At least Little League has finally realized this potential danger and put a moratorium on most composite-barreled bats.  

3. All players must play 3 innings per game. Yes, it can be done by reducing the playing time of those who get 5 and 6 innings a game (more on this later).

 4. Do away with any type of mercy rule that cuts a game short. There is nothing worse than ending a game on a beautiful spring evening after only 4 innings. The most blatant casualty of the rule is the child who has just entered the game or hasn’t even gotten a chance to play. Keep playing! Take the dominant players out of the game for the last two innings. Either sit the pitcher or put him in right field. What better time for both teams to discover another pitching arm and to let the kids play other positions? There are many creative ways to continue a game even though the winner has already been determined. Are we so consumed with stats and the thought of abandoning the strategy that we’ve mapped out for the week? Would we rather pack it in an hour early and let a kid go home without having had a chance to swing the bat or throw someone out at first?

You’ll have to excuse me if my next comment seems to be a little harsh on the coaches — believe me, in the weeks to come this column will be very “coach-friendly” as I begin to post some of the answers to the coaching surveys I’ve sent out.

The one issue that will cause a parent to blow a gasket is when the outcome of the game has long been determined and their child (the one that usually sits more than he plays) is still not in the game. It happens in every single sport, and Ill bet that most of us have been or continue to be guilty of this practice.

Why and how does this happen? In baseball especially, it’s simple to avoid. You are killing the other team … you have three kids that play 80-90 percent of every game. You have three other kids that play 2 innings a game — OK, sometimes three or four innings — but rarely. Take the three off of the field and replace them with the three on the bench. And again, pardon me for getting all frothy regarding the subject, but there is no excuse (I’ve heard them all) for not doing it.

OK, friends, remember — only constructive conversation please. Maybe, just maybe, close-to-perfect is right around the corner.

Ron Goralski December 18, 2011 at 02:55 PM
Thanks Mr Richardson. I see your point about the shield. But I'm sure goalie masks and helmets were cumbersome at first too. As far as mixing the teams durning a blowout - this isn't The Parking Lot Football League in 1979 Bristol. (Inside reference to our childhood where Dave and I grew up in the same apartment complex.) But I love that train of thought and I've coached games where one team was short players and one team borrowed from the other just so the kids were able to play.
Ron Goralski December 18, 2011 at 03:58 PM
DEAR READERS: As I wrote in an email to my cousin Brian this morning... I often ask for the Moon in the hopes of coming away with a few treasured rocks. I'm passionate about certain subjects and I can appreciate that many of you believe that my expectations and solutions are unreasonable. I fully understand that there will never be a perfect league. First of all - what is perfect? That being said there is not a single reason to back down in my pursuit of bringing important issues to this interactive table in front of us. Have an open mind. Strive to make each child's experience with you one that they will look back on as a positive experience. Sure, many of my ideas and suggestions will never come to fruition. But I'm looking to add to my collection of moon rocks. The day I stop chipping away is the day I'll consider myself a failure.
Keith O'Reilly December 19, 2011 at 03:04 PM
I agree with almost everything but like Dave, I am unsure about Batters and Pitchers wearing chest guards. What is the next step from that,when a batter or pitcher gets hit in the back, Full body armor? I am all for safety for ALL athletes,not just children. But chest protection would be cumbersome and lead to akward movements and un-natural body movements and possibly injure or hinder performance. Face guards are not such a bad idea,as long as they don't turn into giant magnifying glasses in the summer sunshine. Unfortunately it is the nature of sports that collisions and injuries will occur. We all want our kids to be safe,but we can't bubble wrap them before they leave for school in the morning. One more thing...Maybe reconfiguring the Little league diamond would be a workable idea. Then the Pitcher would be farther away from the plate.
Ron Goralski December 19, 2011 at 03:44 PM
Here is the reason for a chest guard: There is growing awareness for the need for heart protection in youth baseball. In 1989, a National Amateur Baseball Catastrophic Surveillance Program was initiated. Its’ final report includes data from 18 year (1989 to 2006) and 13 organizations. The result of this report was that there were 39 fatalities, 26 disability injuries, and 30 serious injuries with complete recovery. While these numbers are small compared to the total of 82,687,876 amateur baseball players during this time, they are still avoidable. One of the causes of death is commotio cordis. Impact to the chest is transmitted to the heart muscle, and depending on when in the heart cycle the impact hits, it may affect the heart's electrical activity, causing an arrhythmia, and often death. This effect is called commotio cordis. (FROM: YOUTHBASEBALLNOW.COM) They now have shirts where the protector (a circle in the center of the chest) is sewn right into it. But you do make a good point Keith regarding unnatural body movements... maybe they have done studies on that as well. Is it overkill? Can you be overcautious? That's one of those debates where there is probably no right or wrong answer. I guess I'm on the overcautious side. Moving the mound back will take the ball out of the hands of many of the smaller kids - even those in the 9-10-year-old range.
Ron Goralski December 19, 2011 at 04:16 PM
Pat- I understand there is no perfect league and I address that more below. My biggest issue is playing time ESPECIALLY when a good player sits so that the coach can play his kid, his buddies kids, and the kids of members of the board. I've purposely watched for these situations and have found them just about everyplace I've checked. Jeff suggested (above) that each player play at least one full game a week. That is the best suggestion I've heard so far! Someone please tell me why this can't be incorporated into the rulebook? Does it effect a team's ability to win the game when that weaker player can't be substituted in the bottom of the 6th with the bases loaded? Maybe. But what about the boost of confidence that player gains by drawing a walk, or slapping the ball through the infield to win the game? And if he strikes out to lose the game? OK so he strikes out... the game is over... lost... BUT what do we keep hearing? "In real life things will not always be fair so the kids might as well get used to it now." (Which I think is a crock of crap.) But using that theory... the whole team is learning that you are only as strong as your weakest link. That is also a life lesson! So at the next practice your two best players takes this kid for a few minutes and gives him a few of their tips - what works for them best. Now you are building team leaders and building a bridge between the best players and those that look at themselves as benchwarmers. Confidence builds and builds.


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