What Youth Sports can Learn from Jose Bautista’s Bat Flip

The bat flip heard round the world. It has been the subject of countless memes, been played and replayed on sportscast highlights, and it has flooded social media. It’s even been carved onto pumpkins. Time will tell if “the bat flip” will be one of those defining moments of Jose Bautista’s career, like Babe Ruth’s “called shot” was in game three of the 1932 world series.

Photo credit: Zack Chisholm (edits: photo cropped)
George Herman “Babe” Ruth Jr. Photo credit: Zack Chisholm (edits: photo cropped)

It has also been the subject of intense media criticism, much of which accused Bautista of attacking the integrity of baseball. Sam Dyson, the pitcher for the Rangers who gave up the game-changing home run, insisted, “Jose needs to calm that down, just kind of respect the game a little more … [He] is a huge role model for the younger generation that’s coming up playing this game … It shouldn’t be done.”

Bautista’s official rebuff of such accusations came in the form of an eloquent article he wrote on November 9th for The Players’ Tribune titled “Are You Flipping Kidding Me?” In it, he writes:

There’s no sound in the world like the crack a baseball makes on the sweet spot of my maple Marucci. You blink on contact. The immediate roar of the crowd lifts your sights to see where the ball is going. Imagine the feeling of watching it land in the seats. How would you feel? What would you do?

There was no script. I didn’t plan it. It just happened.

I flipped my bat.

If social media is any measure of popular opinion, then it would seem that Toronto stands behind their Joey Bats and his infamous flip. And it’s one of those moments in sports history that can teach our youth a lot about sportsmanship. Helping our players develop sportsmanship and character, after all, is one of our overarching goals as an organization. As Youth Football Online aptly states, “Character development is just as relevant as learning the game … It’s of utmost importance to be respectful of your teammates and opponents.”

Photo credit: Wayne Stadler

Anyone who loves hockey knows that it is an emotional rollercoaster of a sport. It’s not indifference that motivates our players to get out there on that ice game after game, practice after practice, and give it their all. It’s passion. Celebrating achievements—that perfect goal, that beauty pass, that incredible save—is evidence of that passion.

There is a fine line, however, between celebration and showboating, and it’s not always the easiest line to define. Even the experts don’t seem to agree on where that line exists, as the arguments on both sides of “the bat flip” show us. When we’re dealing with kids, communication is essential to helping our young athletes develop an understanding of the difference between the two.

This is a sentiment echoed by Al Adamsen, trainer for the Positive Coaching Alliance in the San Francisco Bay Area. When asked by a youth coach how to address showboating, he suggests, “[The] key to achieving your goal is communication. Communication is often thought of as a one-time event. It’s not. As John Wooden once said, ‘It’s not what you teach. It’s what you emphasize.’ This could not be more true when you’re communicating with opposing coaches, administrators, players, parents, etc.”

There are two sides to the coin here, and communication needs to be had on both the Moose and the Queen sides (pardon the nod to our Canadiana roots). First, players need to understand that showboating is not a reflection of good sportsmanship. That one’s a given. But second, and less obvious, is that players need to understand that celebration isn’t always showboating. Jose Bautista highlights this point in his article when he goes on to say that his bat flip “wasn’t out of contempt for the pitcher. It wasn’t because I don’t respect the unwritten rules of the game. I was caught up in the emotion of the moment… Those moments are spontaneous. They’re human. And they’re a whole lot of fun.”

Photo credit: Keith Allison

When it comes to helping our children develop character in the game of hockey, communication is key. Sam Dyce’s accusation that Bautista is being a poor role model is only a justified one if we don’t help our players, at whatever level they may be in their youth sports career, understand and appreciate the proper place celebration holds in the sport of hockey.

Recognizing the appropriate level of celebration and, just as important, respecting the right of the opposing team to celebrate their own achievements—that is the mark of a mature player.

Photo credit for featured image: Keith Allison

Scheduling Ice: A Look At What Our Board Members Do

Schedules. Waiting for the hockey schedule is like waiting to open birthday presents – a lot of excited hockey players are bouncing on their blades to find out when they play … Well, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but the posting of the schedule is pretty much the official kick-off to the season. And that’s something to look forward to, isn’t it?

Preparing the schedule is a lot harder than one might imagine. Just ask Paul Jefferson, one of our CRHL veterans. He’s been a member of the board of directors for more than thirteen years. His son has gone through the league as a player, and is now coaching one of his own teams. Yet Paul comes back year after year to volunteer his time to this fantastic organization, with no more motivation than the knowledge that “it’s for the kids.”

In the weeks leading up to the start of the season, Paul is busy at home matching up the teams and slotting them in for the entire year. “I end up putting in a lot of my free time,” he admits. “It’s gotten better over the years because I get better at it each time. You know, you get quicker, and you know what to look for. But still, it’s a real time commitment.”

There are many factors that go into building a schedule that people may not realize. For one, the Clarington Recreational Hockey League is just one of several organizations vying for the same ice time. Figure skating, power skating, speed skating, public skating, rep hockey, adult leagues, tournaments – everyone wants ice. With only so much rink space to go around, the municipality has to portion out the region’s limited facilities so that everyone gets what they need. This makes scheduling difficult for Paul, who has a finite portion of ice to work with for all of CRHL’s divisions and teams. And to ensure that teams are given the opportunity to book outside tournaments throughout the season, the schedule for the entire year has to be done at the start to allow players, coaches and parents to manager their own  commitments.

It may also surprise you to learn that Paul regularly goes to battle with the city about whether to give ice back or not … of course, we’re teasing when we say that. Understandably, the municipality does not want organizations keeping ice it doesn’t need, and is anxious to know how much ice time has been returned so that it can be redistributed. It’s Paul’s job to make sure he holds onto ice time for as long as he can (within reason) to ensure that only the right amount of ice, if any, is given back. It’s also Paul’s job to answer to the municipality when they want hard figures that he’s not yet ready to give. That’s a big ask of any volunteer, but he does it because, as he says, “It’s for the good of the league. When our credo is ‘every kid gets to play,’ we need to make sure we have the ice. We do it for the kids, first.”

At least some things remain constant. Paul is used to working with Orono and Newcastle, who are separate organizations that schedule their own practices and games, and has become accustomed to merging multiple schedules into one. Also, the younger divisions will never be on the ice in the later time slots, so he knows to work the older divisions into those spaces first to open up as many age-appropriate ones as possible. With these and other consistent factors, Paul has built up quite a refined process for putting the schedules together. Of note, it’s a process that has taken years to develop.

At the end of it all, Paul is confident in the schedules he builds. “I do make mistakes,” he admits. “Sometimes you get it done, and you don’t realize a team is missing a practice. So there is that element of human error. But if I know something’s wrong, I’ll fix it. At the end of the day I have to accept that you can’t make everyone happy, but I always aim to make as many people happy as possible.”

Paul Jefferson, Ice Scheduler, CRHL

Paul Jefferson is just one of the many dedicated volunteers at the Clarington Recreational Hockey League spending their free time to open up opportunities like local hockey for our kids. Thanks, Paul, for all you do to make sure our kids can play.

Op Ed: Let’s Drop the Semantics on the Participation “Award”

Photo credit: VoiceIT Magazine

This summer, the unfortunate comment was very publicly made by two-time Superbowl champion James Harrison of the Pittsburgh Steelers that his children would not be allowed to keep their participation awards.

He posted on his Instagram account: “I came home to find out that my boys received two trophies for nothing, participation trophies! While I am very proud of my boys for everything they do and will encourage them till the day I die, these trophies will be given back until they EARN a real trophy. I’m sorry I’m not sorry for believing that everything in life should be earned and I’m not about to raise two boys to be men by making them believe that they are entitled to something just because they tried their best…cause sometimes your best is not enough, and that should drive you to want to do better…not cry and whine until somebody gives you something to shut u up and keep you happy. #harrisonfamilyvalues

It’s sparked a lot of debate, and to be fair, Harrison received notable praise for his comments. For example, Global News suggests that, “Critics of participation awards might borrow a page from Top Gun, and say “there are no points for second place.” These awards, they argue, simply reward failure and turn kids into under-achievers who think you just have to show up to succeed.”

It’s a viewpoint that is likely fuelled by an infamous statement made by University of Toronto psychology professor Gary Walters, who claimed that parents today have prioritized building their children’s self-esteem by rewarding everything. He says, “So every five-year-old on the soccer team gets a participation medal whether they were competent or not. [This has helped] contribute to the developing culture of narcissism and ‘look at me’-ishness.”

Thankfully, there’s enough criticism of this and like viewpoints to even out the debate. Forbes sports writer Bob Cook points out, “To me, the bigger problem is not giving kids trophies—it’s making trophies out of your kids. The real damage, I think, comes from parents who are pushing their children too hard towards a scholarship or pro career, and let their identities and family dynamics become wrapped up in that pursuit … When it comes to participation trophies, in my experience, kids know the score.”

Photo credit: Huffington Post

And Disney’s Babble blog suggests that participation trophies are more than just trophies for participating, citing that they are instead “symbolic of a season well played, of giving up three days a week to practice and play games, of effort and sweat and injuries.”

Fair point. And I may be alone in this, but I think it’s high time we drop the semantics. Call it an award, call it a token, call it what you want. In the end, we all know what it is—including our kids. The participation medal, trophy, pin, hat, or whatever form it comes in, is not a reward for “doing nothing,” whatever James Harrison and his ilk might suggest. Instead, it’s a reward for our children having passed a milestone in their lives. It’s a memento of the teammates who have become friends, and the coaches who have become role models. And it’s a token of the things our children have done in those precious, fleeting years that are childhood.

Thirty years down the line, when our young men and women look at those mementos, they won’t see an empty award. They will see reminders of a life lived well, and timeless memories made.

Isn’t that, after all, the point of youth sports in the first place?

B2BOur guest blogger today, Katie LeGrand, is a freelance writer, content marketing enthusiast and CRHL hockey mom.

Visualizing Success for Young Athletes

Hockey, as any player will tell you, is about far more than just getting out onto that ice and attacking the puck like your life depends on it (no matter what it might look like on TV during Hockey Night in Canada). Anyone who plays the sport knows there’s a skill involved – not just motor skills like being able to skate and stick-handle, but the skill to utilize your teammates to complete the play, to monitor their positions, and even to carry out pre-determined strategies for overcoming your opponents’ combined skills.

In short, there’s more strategy to hockey than there might seem from the stands. To our Clarington Thunder players, and to all hockey players, as your youth hockey career progresses and as you mature as a player, strategy will become more important to your game. And strategy is as much a mental skill as a physical one.

This week’s blog post is about visualizing your game, and it is inspired by multi-sports counselor and mental skills trainer Anthony Lanzillo, who advocates for youth athletes to “visualize the play.”

Practicing your drills is more than just getting out there on the ice and doing them over and over again. It’s about seeing them in your head, seeing yourself doing them step by step. When you’re visualizing your drills, you want to imagine the feel of each step, where you’re looking on the ice, and where you are supposed to be in relation to your teammates. It’s as important to commit your drills to your mental memory as it is to commit them to your physical memory (also called muscle memory).

Here are some additional things you want to be doing when you visualize the play:

  • Identify one or two positive feelings you’re experiencing as you see yourself successfully performing your role.
  • Identify key moments of each drill: where’s your stick; where are you looking on the ice; which opposing player are you covering?
  • When you’re done visualizing, identify one or two more of your own personal strengths which you bring to the play. Is it speed? Puck control? Diversion?

What practicing these visualizations and mental rehearsals do is help you to be more composed and confident when it’s game time. As Anthony Lanzillo says, you are creating a mental imprint of how you want to perform. By doing this, you will be better able to deal with any distractions or negative influences at game time.

And with parents and fans of our players as passionate about hockey as we know they can be, there will definitely be distractions at game time.

After all, what’s a local hockey game without a good old cow bell?

5 Tips for Preventing Sports Injuries in Kids

If you think kids’ recreational sports are any less competitive than their adult versions, think again. That goes double for hockey! There’s nothing like that feeling you get when you step out onto the ice at the start of every game. It’s a feeling that gets you at any age, and it’s one of the best things about hockey.

Unfortunately it can also be one of the most dangerous … if you forget to pay attention to safety.

With the hockey season just around the corner, we think it’s important to remind all of our parents and players that injuries are preventable. Here are a few tips on how you can prevent and avoid injury. For parents with kids in sports other than hockey, these tips are adaptable to any sport.

  1. Listen to your injuries

Sometimes it’s tough to put your hand up and say you’re injured. Our players love the game of hockey, they love their teams, and they love their coaches. It might be easy to think you’re letting your team down if you don’t play. But staying in the game now and playing injured will only take you out of the game for longer when that injury becomes serious. Parents, listen to your kids. If they say something hurts, investigate the whats, whens and hows. Your kids are still growing, their bones are still forming, and an untreated injury at this stage can lead to long-term consequences. Let your kids know it’s okay to rest their bodies. For our older players that might think playing through an injury is better than missing a game, just remember that missing one game is far better than missing the entire season.

  1. Play by the rules

Hockey is one of Clarington’s best-loved traditions. We’re home to the great Oshawa Generals, after all. Game after game, our recreational league players see their hockey heroes on the ice – playing by a very different set of rules than we have. Depending on what level you or your children play at, they might not be allowed to check, even though they see their favourite professional players doing the same thing. Our rules on what players can and can’t do are there for a reason: to protect them. If your child is given a penalty for doing something that’s against the rules, talk to them. Explain why they can’t do that. It’s to prevent them and their fellow players from getting hurt.

  1. Learn the proper technique

Hockey is a technique-oriented sport. Not only do you need to know how to carry the puck, stick handle, challenge and work as a team, you have to do it all with a pair of razor-sharp blades stuck on your feet. Technique in any sport is essential – especially in hockey. With the proper technique, you are on your way to making yourself a force to be reckoned with. You also minimize your risk of injury. Players, pay attention to your coaches at practice when they’re instructing you on technique. Parents, if you’re able, help your child by listening to the coach as well, and then (if feasible) give your child the opportunity to practice what they learned at public skates and stick and puck sessions.

  1. Don’t forget to warm up and stretch before practices and games

When their blood is pumping just before the game, stretching and warmups are probably the last thing on your child’s mind. But all the pros do it. Having limber muscles is a must for preventing injury. If you have some time before you leave the house, sit down with your child and do some simple leg, arm, and torso stretches. Warm up a bit by having them jog in place. Do jumping jacks. Or just walk around the block. Here is a guide to some basic hockey stretches.

  1. Wear proper and well-fitting equipment

At Clarington Thunder, regulated equipment is mandatory. This is not just our rule, it’s mandated by the Ontario Minor Hockey Association and Hockey Canada. Not every sport regulates equipment, however. Whatever sport your child plays, equipment is always important. And just because we mandate our equipment in hockey, doesn’t mean our players are automatically injury-proof. Parents, you need to make sure your child’s equipment fits properly. When buying their gear, choose a reputable store that has knowledgeable staff on hand to help you select the proper size. You can also search online for tips on what to look for if  your child’s helmet, shin pads, mouth guard, or any other piece of equipment is either too big or too small. If you’re still not sure, ask your coach. Equipment doesn’t just prevent injuries – proper equipment does.

Welcome to our Blog

South Courtice ArenaHello, and welcome to our blog. We are the Clarington Recreational Hockey League, otherwise known as Clarington Thunder. Since 1985, our organization has dedicated itself to fostering a deep love and respect for the sport and culture of hockey in the youth of Clarington, Ontario.

Until now, we’ve traditionally been a local organization. But the age of digital and social media is upon us, bringing us the opportunity to connect with a larger audience. For the first time ever, we are able to share our love of the game with a global community. On our blog, you will find not only updates about our programs, our teams, and our events, but also interesting, inspirational and personal posts from our board, our parents, and our wider range of contributors.

Thanks for visiting, and we hope you come back often to get your dose of hometown hockey!