CHUCK SCHUMACHER: Coach Chuck — The Neighborhood Pickup Baseball Game: Lessons from the Past

It’s a sunny afternoon at a local ball field. A bunch of kids have shown up to play baseball for hours, perhaps until dark or a mother’s voice is heard calling. Kids arrive with ball gloves hanging from handlebars and the sound of baseball cards in spokes. Some will have to leave early but usually others show up to take their place.

To get things going, two captains are picked. It’s a unanimous decision who these will be because it’s intuitively obvious to the kids who the leaders are. Everyone lines up, and the two captains take turns picking players (As I recall, I was just hoping I wasn’t picked last). The likelihood of two equally competitive teams is good because that’s how the kids want it. If the score gets lopsided as the game progresses, someone usually suggests switching a couple players so the teams are better matched.

Kids know it’s not real competition if one team is stacked with all the best players.

There are no umps or coaches; none are needed. The catchers call balls and strikes, the captains handle the coaching duties. The kids understand that things must move along, so any disagreements seem to work themselves out quickly. The rules resemble something from MLB and whatever the circumstances require. For example, if there are only eight players per team, a ball hit to right field is an out. Depending on how many players show up or have to leave early, the rules are in flux and can change to suit the situation.

The basic rules are decided upon before the game starts, and if there are any arguments during the game, the captains take care of it or it takes care of itself because dwelling on arguments takes the fun out of it. Remember, the kids are in charge here, so having fun will always be the result. Everything works out and the game continues.

This scenario is rarely seen these days, as professionalization in youth sports has replaced simply playing for the pure joy of it. The fun factor in youth sports is becoming harder to achieve as overzealous adults are making the game into something it’s not ― a job. Keeping up with others, college scholarships and pro contracts are on the mind of many parents, and they run the risk of missing out on the most important part of raising their kids ― their childhood.

Many adults speak the right words but display the wrong actions when it comes to competition in youth sports. The concept of “it’s for the kids” was lost long ago when the neighborhood pickup game became extinct. Back then, it was for the kids.

Without the disadvantage of having adults present, kids became very skilled at problem solving. They learned to manage, organize, have discipline, have respect and deal with conflict because they innocently knew that all of these things were important if they were to achieve their goal of having fun.

What we can learn from neighborhood baseball pickup games from the past is that kids often have a better perspective than adults when it comes to competition. That’s because a kid’s No. 1 priority is having fun.

Those neighborhood pickup games were always competitive but not at the expense of having fun. While acknowledging that today’s society is different, especially with regard to safety issues, the spirit of neighborhood pickup baseball games should be encouraged, even if it’s not practical to let kids show up on their own without adult supervision. It is the responsibility of the adults involved in youth sports to be creative enough to allow the kids to have fun while keeping a competitive atmosphere in place so kids can learn the life lessons the ball diamond offers.

With today’s overorganized system of youth sports, helicopter parents and travel teams as young as 6 years old, we have lost an important developmental tool for our children — the neighborhood pickup baseball game and the lessons learned within it.

RUSS HONS: Photo Gallery — UND Athletics Night Of Champions

Grand Forks photographer attended the University of North Dakota Athletics Night of Champions awards banquet Tuesday night in the Empire Arts Center in downtown Grand Forks. Among the winners were University of North Dakota junior thrower Molli Detloff and junior defenseman Christian Wolanin. Detloff was named the Grace Rhonemus Female Athlete of the Year, and Wolanin was named UND’s Glenn “Red” Jarrett Male Athlete of the Year. For a full listing of award winners, go here. (Check out more photos from Russ Hons here.)

CHUCK SCHUMACHER: Coach Chuck — The Inner And Outer Journey Of Youth Sports

“I want to be a Major League Baseball player.”  “I want to play in the NBA.”  “I want to make it to the NFL.” — Anonymous kids

When one of my young students tells me his goal is to be a professional baseball player, my response is always the same: “Let’s get to work.”

Instead of squashing a kid’s dream, let’s focus on something even more important than the goal itself: understanding the process associated with achieving one’s goals. Not only will this increase your odds of realizing your dreams, but the hard work you put in along the way will not be wasted even if your ultimate goal eludes you.

When we understand the process, success is achievable

The martial arts model is a great example of the inner/outer journey. To legitimately reach the level of black belt in karate, it requires a certain mastery of technique associated with a complete system of training. As students move forward toward their goal of a black belt, they must be patient enough to master the movements at their current level before being taught more advanced movements. Whether it’s physical or academic training, understanding the concept of “one step at a time” is crucial for the development of mind and body.

Once we know where we want to go, how do we get there? First, visualize your “outer journey” which is, I want to do this — or that. Then, get to work.

Our everyday effort, week by week — month by month — year by year, represents our inner journey, and it is where many of us fall short. When striving for high goals, progress can feel slow and if it feels like you’re not getting anywhere, you should ask yourself this question: Am I skipping steps along the way on my inner journey? This is the time to be honest with yourself because time passes quickly and you don’t get it back.

The outer journey lets you know where you’re going. But just knowing where you want to go won’t get you there. You need a map and you need the discipline to stay the course. You also need the awareness to change course as needed, making sure your change of direction isn’t just a shortcut but a logical progression based on the shifting dynamic.

The main purpose of youth sports shouldn’t be about becoming a professional. The low percentage of success speaks for itself. But what we are witnessing in youth sports these days is professionalization, causing a trend toward the advanced training of kids before crucial developmental stages have reached their peak. When this happens, your training becomes like a chain with weak links. It looks like a chain, but it won’t hold up when needed most. On the other hand, by understanding and becoming proficient at one thing at a time, training accumulates in you, creating a strong foundation capable of holding up under the most pressure-filled situations in competition.

The inner journey is where self-belief is born

Understanding the inner/outer journey process is a game-changer. When these two dynamics work together creating a balanced, connected approach, you will continually see the results of previous efforts, and you’ll become motivated to forge ahead. The dream becomes more real, and it only makes sense that continuing on this path will bring you closer to your ultimate goal.

It takes discipline to stay the course on your inner journey, but it’s worth the effort. Be that person who can do it and you will separate yourself from the rest of the pack.

By being patient at your current level of training and allowing motor learning to take place, the next, more difficult steps are easier to accomplish because you are starting at a new, fully developed base level each time. In other words, you will be mentally, physically and spiritually prepared to move forward toward your outer journey. See it ― and believe it can happen.

RUSS HONS: Photo Gallery — Grand Forks Curling Club

Curling has been in the forefront lately, with the U.S. men’s team reaching the gold-medal match with Sweden on Saturday in the 2018 Winter Olympic Games taking place in PyeongChang, South Korea. On Wednesday, photographer Russ Hons made a trip  to the newly rebuilt Grand Forks Curling Club, which was founded in 1960, and here is what he saw. (Check out more photos from Russ Hons here.)

LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — Winter Olympics Hiatus

I’m gaga over the Winter Olympics.

My family and friends know this. I have been for decades. I like the Summer Olympics, too, but the Winter Olympics, for me, are the pinnacle. Perhaps it is because I live in the north country and have dabbled in many of the sports, downhill and cross-country skiing as well as ice skating and curling.

I clear my calendar for those weeks inasmuch as is possible and binge watch, all projects on hold. I’ve downloaded the NBC Olympics app on my phone and I’m good to go.

This year, four events will make their debut: speed skating mass start, mixed doubles curling, big air and mixed team alpine skiing.

I have many vivid memories of Winter Olympics past and even occasionally watch the Olympics channel our cable provider offers. Who can forget the moment when Neil Young appeared in the Vancouver closing ceremonies? My husband teases me about my admiration for Evan Lysacek.

Because of this passion, my blog will be on hiatus most of the rest of February.

Happy watching.

CHUCK SCHUMACHER: Coach Chuck — Balance Is The Foundation Of Success

The 2017 World Series was balanced. The Houston Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers were neck and neck in every game, making for a very exciting series to watch and learn from. But if one team had totally outmatched the other, we wouldn’t be calling it one of the best World Series ever. It was as if both teams made each other better by continually raising the bar.

That’s what competition is all about: two equally matched teams, each tipping the balance in their favor — if only by one run.

But balance isn’t just physical; it’s a way of living one’s life. Striking a healthy balance in youth sports has much to do with perspective and good judgment. When my son was 6, his baseball team won every game with scores like 20-1 and 30-3. Because this rec team was unfairly stacked with the most talented athletes, there was absolutely no competition; any type of learning life lessons from failure was unfortunately put off until a later date. And how do you think the inexperienced 6-year-old kids on the other teams felt? In this unbalanced situation, created by adults with poor judgment and lack of perspective, nobody won.

When winning is overemphasized in youth sports, imbalance is usually the result.

In youth sports, there are often two philosophies when it comes to winning: Winning is unimportant or winning is the only thing. Neither of these extremes represents a balanced approach.

Winning “is important because without the desire to win, it’s no longer sport and any opportunity to learn life lessons through competition will be lost. But when a coach’s sole desire is winning, kids are the losers. Overtraining, playing too many games and pressure to perform beyond their ability results in burnout and overuse injuries.

The rising popularity of travel teams has produced many unbalanced situations. They are not all created equal so research is important. When managed responsibly, however, they can be a good venue for kids whose interest level matches the commitment.

Being on a travel team is not an automatic stepping stone to the future. If you think it is, you may be disappointed. There must be a proper balance of playing time and personal training on skill development for progress to happen, whether playing travel ball or not.

The only stepping stone to something bigger lies within one’s self. There must be a self-motivating notion that drives a player forward, no matter what.

Physical Balance:

Mastering one’s physical balance is the first step in developing athleticism. In martial arts, the code of karate states: “A person’s unbalance is the same as a weight.” Trying to execute a difficult athletic movement without a solid foundation of balance will be futile as the body fights to overcome unwanted movement or weight. Whether it’s a boxer delivering a punch or a baseball player swinging a bat, it’s all about focusing all of your energy into the movement in the most efficient way possible.

When the body is unbalanced, this does not happen. The nervous system must recruit muscles to try to “regain” balance, leaving less energy to put into the ball, resulting in a weaker hit, for example.

Mental Balance

When a hitter steps into the batter’s box, or a basketball player steps up to the free-throw line, their mental approach will prove to be the difference-maker between success and failure. At this moment, an overcompetitive mind will cause an out of control body and mechanics will suffer. When mental stimulation is balanced, previous physical training will manifest itself to the highest degree possible. Achieving mental balance starts with taking a breath before every pitch, free throw, serve or swing.

Whether it’s an entertaining World Series or our kids seeking joy in playing sports, balance is needed for good outcomes to become possible. For kids, a balanced approach to their sports experience is crucial whether it’s to avoid overuse injuries and burnout, or to avoid laziness by thinking others will make them great by creating unrealistic opportunities for them.

CHUCK SCHUMACHER: Coach Chuck — Replace Frustration With Knowledge

Is frustration dominating your child’s athletic experience?

When young athletes can’t let go of frustration after failure, it’s a clear indication they have no clue how to make an adjustment, leaving them vulnerable to more of the same. And when adults get over-involved during the game, it usually makes things worse.

A parent’s natural reaction is to come to the rescue when their kids are struggling. But during competition, excessive coaching really amounts to an attempt by the parent to make something happen immediately. The truth is, it can’t happen if the athlete hasn’t learned it. The athlete must be the one who possesses the knowledge to turn things around in the moment. Learning this takes time and training with intention. There are no shortcuts.

Adults should have proper perspective when young athletes fail, not just raise their voices in disgust.

There are many resources available today that help parents and coaches gain knowledge about technique and mental concentration. When parents put forth an honest effort to learn, they are less likely to raise their voices in disgust because they have gained knowledge about the difficulties their kids face. Once everyone gains a better understanding of how things work, young athletes will be better equipped to make adjustments on the fly, less likely to experience frustration and more likely to experience joy.

Experience is gained on the field, but technical skills are gained through practice. A balanced approach to both is necessary to achieve excellence. One relies on the other. When basic mechanics are mastered and control of the body is achieved, learning to apply these skills comes next — not the other way around.

“Knowing is not enough; We must apply. Willing is not enough; We must do.” – Bruce Lee

Weak groundouts in baseball, missed free throws in basketball and missed penalty kicks in soccer are normal mistakes that happen to everyone, even the best players. But the best players tend to possess an attribute that others do not: “Knowledge about what may have caused their failure and knowledge about how to adjust.”

Here are some common phrases heard at a youth baseball game that inhibit a struggling player’s performance. Every sport has similar phrases.

• “Throw strikes!” — These useless words only add more pressure. The young, inexperienced pitcher is well aware that they are trying to throw strikes. But there are reasons why they can’t. Has there been any previous credible instruction? If not, having control and throwing strikes probably won’t happen today.

• “Swing harder!” — This usually causes young hitters to swing out of their shoes, resulting in poor mechanics. With an out-of-control body, weak results are predictable.

• “You gotta have that one!” — Many times in youth baseball, you hear this being shouted from the stands when a player makes an error on what was clearly not a routine play. In the big leagues, this is a base hit, but many times in youth ball, we hear, “C’mon, you gotta have that one!“

When the game starts, it’s time to let go of worry and anxiety about outcomes and just enjoy the experience of being an athlete. When this is accomplished, a person’s training and natural ability have a chance to flourish and grow. Frustration will be replaced by the knowledge that they have prepared for this moment.

RUSS HONS: Photo Gallery — Grand Forks Central Vs. Grand Forks Red River Volleyball

Grand Forks Red River defeated crosstown rival Grand Forks Central 25-16, 25-10, 25-18 in girls high school volleyball Tuesday night on the Knights’ home court. The Roughriders were led by Maggie Steffen, who had 15 kills. Korri Gust, Bailey Jaeger and Jaylin Perrault had four kills each to lead the Knights. Red River upped its record to 6-9 in Eastern Dakota Conference play and 11-16 overall. Central fell to 1-13 in conference play and 5-20 overall. (Check out more photos from Russ Hons here.)

TOM COYNE: Back In Circulation — Purple Pain Just A Part Of NFL’s Bane

A chilly Sunday morning gradually blossomed into a gorgeous, late summer afternoon. But being a golfer of marginal talent and fully aware that our local football team had an enticing matchup in Pittsburgh, I still wondered if I’d made the right choice. Our annual fraternity scramble was on tap at the University of Minnesota course, and I’d reluctantly agreed to once more expose my shaky game to all those alums eager to sneer at my worm-burning iron play.

After watching the Vikings cruise past New Orleans in surprisingly easy fashion last Monday, it was tempting to leave my cell phone on when we gathered at the first hole for our late morning tee off. But I’d convinced myself that I would avoid all distractions and forget about football … for at least a few hours.

Before long, we were sharing old stories, shedding our windbreakers and even making a good shot or two. So it wasn’t until we were returning our golf carts and sipping on beers, that someone mentioned the Purple. “They were losing big, the last I checked,” said one of the brothers.

Suddenly it hit me. I’d managed to spend a Sunday afternoon away from the Red Zone Channel and hadn’t suffered NFL withdrawal symptoms. In fact, I found myself grateful to have reconnected with old buddies and gotten some much-needed exercise and sun, in the process.

What should be worrisome for Roger Goodell and the rest of the league’s cronies, is that my revelation about life without pro football is happening to many others these days. And that spells trouble for a business already too greedy for their own good.

Let me attempt to connect the dots by starting at the bottom of the food chain of a multimillion dollar operation that has been captivating Americans for years. Or conning them … depending on your perspective.

Ruben is an avid pro football fan. We’ll call him “Rube” for short. He loves the Vikings, wears everything purple and shells out thousands of dollars to occupy a nosebleed seat at US Bank Stadium. Rube watches NFL games Sundays, Mondays and Thursdays. He plays in six fantasy leagues. But lately, Rube has been angry and frustrated for a variety of reasons.

First, there were those annoying preseason games where he was forced to pay full-price for tickets in Row Z. The games where the teams played mostly third stringers to protect their stars from getting injured, since they still figured the studs would get battered around in weeks to come.

Then Rube put in months of planning to prepare for his fantasy draft and was thrilled to land the top-rated running back, David Johnson, of Arizona. But a couple of days later, Johnson went down with a season-ending injury. In fact, many top players were dropping like flies, tearing ACLs and separating shoulders.

Speaking of injuries, Rube was really down in the dumps when he learned his favorite quarterback, Sam Bradford, also had to sit out for the Vikings on Sunday. Why, just a few days ago, Bradford had displayed laser-like accuracy in carving up the Saints, only to come down with a mysterious swelling of the knee prior to the Pittsburgh game. No wonder the Steelers throttled our boys, 26-9.

And remember, Sam was supposed to be replacing Teddy (as in Bridgewater), the previous Viking QB who suffered his own major injury just a year ago. Poor Rube had envisioned a dream where his squad would be the first NFL team in history to play a Super Bowl in its own stadium, since Minnesota will host the event this February. Now, in Week Two, that already seemed highly unlikely.

Realistically, Rube already knew he’d never be able to afford a seat at the Super Bowl anyway. Most of those would go to rich folks or corporations. Now his team might not win half its games, with a worst Case (as in Keenum) scenario at quarterback. His fantasy teams weren’t looking much better with all those injuries.

So here’s what’s unfolding: The Rubes of the world are beginning to notice a few things. Their wallets are lighter. The endless games they’ve been watching seem less interesting. Every team in the league lacks depth, at one position or another, resulting in poorer execution.

An obvious sign of trouble is already evident in Los Angeles. Since departing from San Diego over the winter, the Chargers made their home field debut in La La Land Sunday. Capacity for StubHub Stadium is 27,000 and only 25,381 purchased tickets. Far fewer actually showed up. Fittingly, the home team lost in the closing seconds when their rookie kicker blew a 44-yard field goal attempt, more evidence that rosters are short on competency.

For Minnesota fans, at least misery loves company. Their biggest rivals, the Green Bay Packers, got blown out by Atlanta last night. Already missing their two starting tackles, the Pack had six more players leave due to injury. Defending champ New England was beaten at home by Kansas City last week and is without several key players. Both have stellar QBs in Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady yet are no better than 1-1 thus far.

A watered down product due to countless injuries, skyrocketing ticket prices and numerous off-the-field issues are penalties that have NFL owners losing ground with followers. Too many games on too many nights have made even important contests seem less significant.

As we walked off the golf course Sunday, one of my buddies mentioned how happy he was that he didn’t “waste another weekend” watching football. Another said he’d taped the Viking game but now planned to skip reviewing it, after learning of the result.

It’s only September. Maybe when the snow begins to fly and we’re cooped inside, I’ll be glued to my television. Watching Case Keenum engineer a comeback to help the Vikes finish at 8-8. Then again … there’s always bowling.

RUSS HONS: Photographer’s Notebook — Sports Shooter Academy

I spent last week in Southern California learning how to be a better photographer. I attended the Sports Shooter Academy 14.

First a little history. Fifteen plus years ago, several professional sports photographers got together and decided to put on a sports photography seminar called the Sports Shooter Academy. Famed USA Today sports photographer Robert Hanashiro set out on making this the best sports photography training seminar in the nation. He recruited many highly sought-after photographers to join him as instuctors for this hands on training.

Many seminars instruct and show you how do improve your craft. This one however, was to be hands-on.

With the help of a commitment from Nikon Professional Services to help sponsor the event, they began the seminars. Over the years, other sponsors have join in, including ThinkTank, the makers of camera bags and many other photography items, and Samy’s Camera.

The instructors at the Academy are a Who’s Who in photography. Many of the instructors have covered all or most of the Super Bowls, the World Series, many Olympic games, professional baseball, basketball, hockey and soccer, as well as covering and photographing sports stars and hollywood celebrities on a regular basis for publications like Sports Illustrated, ESPN and USA Today. One of the instructors had to leave early Sunday to go photograph Nicole Kidman, and another has a shoot Monday with Robert DeNiro.

The academy only accepts about 50 applicants who have submitted a portfolio of their work, an essay on why they want to attend and what they hope to achive by attending. If an applicant is in college and accepted, Nikon graciously sponsors their tuition. The rest of us are on our own for that, but the price is reasonable and well below what one would expect to pay for this kind of training from these professionals.

I arrived in Costa Mesa, Calif., on Tuesday evening and quickly met some of the attendees in the hotel lobby. We discussed the fact that the training did not start until 1 p.m. Wednesday, but we were all eager to start taking photos, so we set plans in motion to go to Huntington Beach at 5:30 a.m. Wednesday morning to photograph surfers.

The surfers flock to the beach in the early morning hours before work and school to take advantage of great waves. The weather was beautiful, the waves were great, and I was able to take some photos of the surfers young and old that morning. After a late-morning breakfast at Ruby’s out on the pier at Huntington Beach, we returned for some great training.

Wednesday afternoon was spent in the classroom. We had lectures and training from Seattle Seahawks photographer Rob Mar; Matt Brown, California Angels director of photography; and Nikon’s Ron Taniwaki. The evening was capped off with the keynote address by famed Sports Illustrated photographer Robert Beck, who has over 130 Sports Illustrated covers to his credit.

After midnight, it was time to get to the room to get a few hours of sleep before heading out to shoot sports in the morning.

The next three days consisted of several different tracks the students could choose from. There were various sports they could choose to shoot and also a portrait lighting seminar put on by photographer Joey Terill, who shoots for clients such as American Express, Coca-Cola, Disney, Golf Digest, Major League Baseball, Red Bull and Sports Illustrated.

The sports that we were scheduled to cover were a professional beach volleyball tournament at Huntington Beach, horse racing at Santa Anna Raceway, track and field at Cal State Fullerton and swimming and diving. I chose beach volleyball for Day 1.

Approximately 15 of us headed to the beach with cameras and lenses in tow. Nikon Professional Services brought hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of new high-end camera and gear for students to borrow and use during the training.

We shot thousands of shots, each trying to get the best shots we could, while the instructors were there to guide us with suggestions on things to look for, techniques for shooting and to answer any questions we might have. We then returned to the class room in the evening to begin quickly sorting through our many photographs and looking for our top photos.

Again, instructors were there to look over our photos, make suggestions on things we could do better, point out photos they thought “made the cut” and to give us general guidance on the work flow of sports photography.

We were then required to narrow our favorite photos to a maximum of three, caption them properly and submit them to the academy. One of the instructors, after reviewing my photos, made an exception and had me submit four.

After this late-night editing session, the night got longer as all of the attendees’ photographs were then reviewed on a projected screen for the instructors to discuss, critique and give their opinion. They also voted on each photo to keep it or not. This narrowed the photos down to their top 10 photos of the day.

Two of my photos were chosen to be in the top 10 of the day, and ultimately two of the top four were mine. To say I was humbled and honored would be an understatement. There were some tremendous photographs from many accomplished photographers from around the United States, Canada, France and Japan. One of my volleyball photos was ultimately chosen by the faculty as the Photo of the Day, and I was awarded a camera bag by one of the sponsors.

It was almost 2 a.m. before I got to bed and was back up at 7 a.m. on Day 2 to head out to shoot the Big West Conference Track and Field finals. There we practiced setting up remote cameras as well and looking for the best angles and equipment to cover the different events. It was a long day of shooting nine events between the men and women.

With three cameras, including a remote one, I shot almost 8,000 photos!! These were narrowed down to less than 100 “keepers.” After some software troubles caused by operator error, I was able to narrow my top picks down to three and get them submitted by the 11 p.m. deadline. The faculty again critiqued and voted on photos, and one of mine made it to the top 12 before being eliminated.

Day 3, while others were off to track and field, horse racing, and swimming and diving, I choose to stay at the hotel to take in Joey Terrill’s lighting seminar. We spent the morning hours learning about the use of flash and light to enhance photographs. After lectures and hands-on practice, we had a model come to the hotel in the afternoon for us to take turns lighting and photgraphing.  This was the most educational day for me. I can’t stress how much I learned about working with light.

Sunday morning, we returned to the work room and worked on photos, reviewed the previous days photos and then had another business and ethics in photograpy lecture from Joey Terrill. Then it was time for the judges to vote on the three Photos of the Day and pick the top photo of the week.

There was intense discussion between the judges, who argued between my volleyball photograph and a track and field photo of a javelin thrower. The javelin photograph won on a split vote. I would have voted for it, too. It was a beautiful photograph.

After some goodbyes by the instuctors, and all of us attendees wishing each other well, the academy ended.

I can’t express enough how much I learned from this school. From better work flow with my photos during and after an event, to how to look for the right photos during an event. I made tons of great contacts within the sports photography industry and met many great people from all over the world.

I look forward to bringing back all this information to better serve my clients and fans in the Grand Forks area. Thank you to everyone for the encouragement and kind comments on my photos.