Development & Winning

Development & Winning

Ruffnecks Work to Build and Compete

How Much is Too Much?

How Much is Too Much?

Ruffnecks Try to Strike Balance in Changing Environment

Ruffnecks Ready to Use NEBC in 2015

Ruffnecks Ready to Use NEBC in 2015

New Home is Great Resource

Development & Winning

Senior Outfielders at Winter WorkoutsOnce again the conflict between development and winning surfaces.  This time, Chicago’s Jackie Robinson West Little League champions and the formidable Little League International governing body are in the cross hairs of the controversy.  This is not a debate about whether those kids should retain their “title.” Of course they should.  They were 12 years old and accomplished their competitive objective.  They are kids.  They represented themselves well and honorably.  The heart of the controversy resides in the actions, attitudes, and distorted objectives of adults.  The 12 year olds of Jackie Robinson West (or any other Little League team) do not administrate Little League International or any local Little League organization.  Little League International is hardly more concerned with the interests of the kids (athletes) than the NCAA is about college athletes.  Little League makes money. In 2007, the organization had a surplus of over $600,000.  One can only imagine what the current television deal for the Little League World Series generates.  While Little League serves a purpose, it can also be regarded as exploiting youngsters who play baseball.  How else can one justify the voyeuristic appeal of nationally televised games for 12 year olds, with cameras trained on moms and dads carrying cowbells, sitting with their fingers crossed, and sometimes weeping.  And of course, there are the carefully wired dad-coaches who never cuss at their kids, but whose stories are often constructed out of fantasy rather than reality.  Have Little League, the networks, and their sponsors sold their souls to put young kids on a preposterous stage for public consumption?

Distorted Objectives

Most of us, including teachers, coaches, and players have endured, with varying degrees of satisfaction, the Little League years.  But do those years really develop, or do they lead to distorted ambitions?  Years that should be all about development are burdened by inexact definitions of success (equating 70 mph fastballs at 46 feet with a 95 mph fastball for the major leagues), as if those successes are transferable to the next stage of development and competition.  The Jackie Robinson West coaches and directors did nothing different that what is played out in many Little League districts every year.  Coaches fudge the selection of teams; politics play a hand in selection of “Williamsport” rosters; phoney drafts and draft rules are created and manipulated.  And all this happens at the expense of development.  Perhaps this offends some, but it is undeniable.  And for Little League International to respond to a sour grapes whistle blower who harbors those same distorted objectives after the fact, reveals the gap between development and winning that plagues youth baseball.  And now Little League wants to punish the kids for the mistakes of adults… just like the NCAA metes out punishments to athletes at colleges and universities that had nothing to do with adult transgressions (see Penn State), while those same governing bodies rake in millions of dollars.

A recent article by John O’Sullivan posted on Steve Nash’s basketball blog takes direct aim at the issue of development.  It was shared by our friends at Pure Performance who work with many Ruffnecks.  Eric Cressey is also a vocal critic of the errant objectives in youth sports, especially baseball. One interesting quote from Mr. O’Sullivan’s article follows below:

I am competitive. I love winning… And I believe that every time an athlete takes the field, he or she should give maximum effort in the pursuit of victory.

But players who play to win is one thing, and has nothing to do with coaches who only coach to win, and organizations who create environments focused on winning and not development. Their approach actually robs kids of their athletic education, and sets them up for failure later in life.

The Ruffnecks Challenge

Ruffnecks Stretch at 6:00am Winter 2015

Neither the New England Ruffnecks nor any other program such as our can afford to be self righteous about their objectives.  Nor are the Ruffnecks immune from mistakes and failures when it comes to balancing development and winning.  However, we prefer to balance development and competition. Few if any (read most likely none) players, parents, coaches in the Ruffnecks program do not like to see us win when there is a game to be played.  But the focus remains on development.  This is a difficult line to walk.  Development accelerates against the very best competition.  Meeting up with the very best competition is often a result of winning games, or at least competing well against the most talented opponents. And while we love to get to the semi-finals and finals of tournaments so that our players are challenged, we do our best to do so in the context of development.  Indeed, development includes the lessons learned through the hierarchy of “earned” playing time or talent, but there should be a path to the starting lineup in the biggest games.   Sometimes being in a reserve role is also a developmental building block.  What the Ruffnecks resist is the “rigged” game of using mercenary players, pitchers who join the team for a single weekend or a tournament… and we often get the crazy phone calls from parents (usually dads) offering their wildly talented sons to us for a special event!!!  Alas, we do our best to build teams… sorry.  If rankings are the primary motivation, then it is easy to see how adults can influence, challenge, and build winners at the expense of development.  For now, we will stand on the side of development, with a deliberate approach to building players who can compete on any stage.  It is far more enjoyable to work, laugh, and grind away with the kids we know.

How Much is Too Much?

The so-called “Genie” has been out of the bottle for some time now.  Kids no longer ride their bicycles with their gloves on the handlebars to local playgrounds or ball fields to play sandlot baseball.  Many towns kick kids off the fields unless they have a permit anyway!  Kids no longer make up their own rules, their own pecking order, never mind their own batting order.  Indeed, few among the current generation of parents even know the intricacies of fashioning a three on three baseball game where a base hit is an argument, and a home run is anything in the air that goes past the second telephone pole on the right.

In the Ruffnecks program, our coaches enjoy highly focused and skilled ball players.  Ruffnecks are wonderful kids, mostly passionate about the game of baseball, highly competitive, and athletic to varying degrees… but mostly above average.  Yet, each year we are amazed at the low aptitude among players in their knowledge of baseball history.  We play baseball trivia at practices with our new 13s, and are underwhelmed by their ability to recall any baseball history beyond last night’s Sports Center.  Sure, by the time we play our second or third doubleheader, our 13s know who coined the expression “Let’s play two!”  But how many even noted the great Ernie Banks’ passing January 23rd?

So the Ruffnecks march forward as a college development program, tuition-based (though substantially subsidized), and do our best to adhere to principles and values that build young men, reinforce teamwork, and teach the game of baseball.  We travel far beyond the boundaries of town baseball, our home state, and even the region of New England.  We challenge our players and coaches to measure themselves against the best competition, the best opponents, and on the most demanding stages of tournament baseball, regardless of where that takes us.  It is a dream and a privilege to play in a program such as the Ruffnecks, traveling to Texas, Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, and elsewhere.  Our players devote themselves to developing the skills of the game: They work with hitting coaches, pitching coaches, strength coaches.  They get up before 5:00 in the morning to participate in Winter Workouts at the indoor “Bubble” at Harvard University.  But are we guilty of “too much?”  Are we falling into the trap of specialization, over emphasis, and chasing ridiculous expectations?

The answers are neither obvious, nor easy to discover.  We neither defend ourselves, nor have we been asked to justify our purpose.  Nevertheless, it is important to reflect and consider the conditions of our times, and what it is we do.  And it is crucial to examine ourselves regularly.  An article in the New York Times, published Saturday, January 17, 2015, addresses the factors of money and expectations in youth sports.  “The Rising Costs of Youth Sports, in Money and Emotion,” speaks to the disconnect between playing sports for fun, or the benefits of sport’s learning platform, and the dreams, hopes, expectations, and even pay-back parents seek from their investment.  The article suggests that “experts” caution “The willingness to spend heavily — in money, time, emotion, and a childhood — needs to be looked at more carefully…” It cites data that may dampen the hopes and aspirations of parents and players in the Ruffnecks program and elsewhere.  Specifically, the article references that less than 5 percent of high school athletes go on to play in college, and less than 3 percent will enjoy school financial aid related to that sport.  Even youth coaching is criticized as being often “emotionally illiterate,” of which most coaches are guilty… at least some of the time, including ourselves.

So how much is too much?  We simply do not know.  What we do know is that we attract terrific kids… and good, well-meaning parents who want what is best for those kids, even if some are nervous, anxious, or otherwise too invested in their son’s athletic successes and failures.  Expectations are the biggest challenge we face in managing parents.  And while the percentages in the New York Times article do not correspond with our “success” rate (between 80 and 90 percent of our players go on to play some college baseball), we are challenged to make our program affordable, accessible, and relevant to players from all social and economic backgrounds.  We steadfastly adhere to the old fashioned notion that a multi-sport athlete is a better, more rounded athlete, than a single sport athlete.  Yet we are guilty of Winter Workouts, Fall Baseball, and year-round opportunities to advance baseball skills for baseball players.  And most will say that this is the trend, the reality of youth sports in the 21st Century.  If it is, we hope to teach well, and provide the best possible experience.  We intend to keep it about TEAM first.  And while our fields are now artificial turf, and virtually none of our players arrive by bicycle, we continue to foster an environment in which Ruffnecks enjoy the game and each other.

Important Notices

(Updated Monday, February 23 at 12:30pm)

Thursday, Feb. 26
13U & 14U Practice
at St. Mark's Armour Cage
7:00 to 9:00pm

Saturday, Feb. 28
13U & 14U Practice
at Harvard University
6:30 to 9:00am

Sunday, March 1
HS Winter Workout
at Harvard University
7:00 to 9:00am

Ruffnecks New Balance Shoe Sale

Ruffnecks 2014 Season Video


The New England Baseball Complex is located at:
333 Southwest Cutoff
Northborough, MA 01532

Follow @neruffnecks on Twitter

Are you on Twitter? Follow our teams - we make regular updates during the season.