Friday, September 14, 2012

U.S. women's soccer team coach, opens up about strategy

Unequivocally the best women's team in the world, the U.S. national team took the Olympics by storm as they soundly defeated every opponent they faced. Their coach, Pia Sundhage, was arguably the backbone of the team. She recently announced that she is resigning in order to coach her home national team in Sweden. Surely, the U.S. women will miss their fearless leader, who garnered them a 89-6-10 record.

Sundhage gave an exclusive interview to U.S. Soccer on September 6, in which she discussed strategy, her team's strengths and weaknesses and everything in between.

With regard to her strategy during the Olympics, Sundhage told U.S. Soccer, "I try to put myself in the other coaches’ shoes and see what she or he is trying to do. I try to look at their style and so forth. It’s more like tactical adjustments because that is very important at the highest level."

Sundhage added that she always chose her lineup carefully and with consideration of the team's opponents, as she believes the players are some of the most important soccer equipment an elite team has.

While the U.S. coach won't give away any of her team's soccer drill secrets, before several of their exhibition games coming up this fall, the U.S. women's soccer team will hold practice sessions open to the public. It will give fans an in-depth, exclusive look at how the gold medal winners train day in and day out.

Fans sporting U.S. soccer jerseys who would like to find out more about the sessions or purchase tickets to one of the exhibition games can visit U.S. Soccer's website.

Another first for women in football: a high school quarterback

Early last month, Shannon Eastin made history as the first female NFL referee, breaking a decades-long gender barrier in the sport.

Over Labor Day weekend, another young woman joined her in the annals of football history. Erin DiMeglio, a senior at South Plantation High School, in a suburb of Fort Lauderdale, took the field with her football shoulder pads and is being hailed as the first girl in Florida to play quarterback for a high school team.

DiMeglio participated in two plays in the South Plantation Paladins' season opener on August 31, which they won 31-14. While she may not have scored a touchdown or even gained a yard, her snaps were the most important of Friday evening's game.

In an interview with The New York Times, DiMeglio said, "My friends all think I'm crazy, but they also think it's pretty cool."

DiMeglio is not new to football. She learned the game from her father as a girl, played in a flag football league from fourth grade on and as a freshman in high school, became quarterback for South Plantation's girls' team.

During her tenure there, DiMeglio reportedly expressed frustration to her parents and coaches that her teammates couldn't keep up, that the "the girls [couldn't] catch her ball because she [threw] too hard." Over time, her coach Doug Gatewood said she wore him down, and when DiMeglio backed it up with impressive performances in practices and scrimmages over the summer, he put her on the boys' team.

Gatewood told The Associated Press, "It's great publicity for the school, it's a positive thing, but at the end of the day that's not why we did it. We did it because she's a legitimate third-string quarterback."

DiMeglio may not become the Paladins' clutch player this season, but she will certainly be one of the most remembered for her achievement.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Good glovework is key for successful first baseman

Fielding ground balls is hard enough as it is, but even on the most cared-for baseball fields, a tricky hop can make an infielder look foolish. In addition to having the right baseball gloves, players should be sure to work at improving their reaction time during practice.

Baseball coaches can help their players by encouraging them to play pepper before baseball practice and games. It's a simple, fun baseball drill that simply has one fielder and one batter feed the ball back and forth to each other. The hitter should just bunt the balls back to the fielder, who must make a clean play in order to make a good throw back to the batter.

These drills are great for teaching fielders to stay down on the ball and use both hands, but that's not always possible for first basemen who regularly need to fully extend their body in order to make a play on bad throws while keeping one foot on the bag. More so than any position other than the catcher, first basemen need to have specially designed baseball gloves to make those tough plays.

If players are looking to use the best first baseman's glove on the market, they would be wise to find out which glove the best first basemen in the world use. Worn by the likes of Ryan Howard, Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols, the Rawlings Heart of the Hide Classic First Base Glove would be just what they're looking for.

The glove has specially designed webbing that's laced for optimum flexibility, an important feature for scooping up bad throws from across the infield. The great thing about Rawlings Heart of the Hide gloves is how soft and easy to break in they are. There's nothing more frustrating than not being able to use a new glove during a game for a while because it's too stiff. Despite their softness, these gloves are strong and very durable.

High school basketball coaches taking scouting to a new level

The use of detailed statistics to analyze athletes was made popular recently after audiences flooded theaters to see the movie "Moneyball." The film was based on the Michael Lewis book that explored how the Oakland Athletics transcended Major League Baseball scouting by using a complicated system of statistical analysis called sabermetrics.

This data isn't just readily available to any team though. With a combination of technology and innovative baseball minds, the A's and other MLB teams compile their own advanced scouting reports of their opponents, their players and others that they may be interested in signing or trading for. This type of analysis would seem to be incredibly pricey, and consequently, only collected and utilized by professional organizations.

That isn't the case anymore, however, with as many as 475 high schools across the United States taking advantage of a new scouting platform that is accessible from iPads, according to the Wall Street Journal. One coach that has actively utilized the service is Keith Guy, head basketball coach of the Muskegon Heights Tigers.

While he was on the sidelines for the Michigan high-school basketball playoffs last month, Guy used his Apple tablet to get detailed information about his opponent's shot location and scoring pace, as well as his team's efficiency when certain players were on the court and how well they performed from different locations.

The program was designed by Vasu Kulkarni, who combined his passion for computers and basketball to make a high level of scouting easy and relatively affordable. Teams send game films to Kulkarni's company, which then extracts data and puts it together for the iPad software.

While this type of analysis may benefit teams at most levels, that much detail might be overdoing it. It is important, however, that every team is equipped with a basketball coaches board and other basketball coaching aids.

Coaches can turn to for more basketball drills and plays that can help their team.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

With spring sports concluding, soccer players should start preparing for the fall

Though spring athletes are definitely ready for a break as their seasons come to an end, the fall sports season is just around the corner. That's why it's important not to forget how their last season ended.

While that means there's room to improve after a disappointing year for some, the teams that were successful shouldn't forget how they got there. But as seniors are already getting fitted for their caps and gowns, underclassmen need to be reminded that their teams will need new leaders to step up and make a difference next fall.

If a team played poorly last year, there's obvious pressure to perform better, but for others like the Peabody High School girls soccer team, next year's squad will have a tough act to follow.

In 2011, the girls headed into the Massachusetts Division 1 state championship game with a 21-0-2 record. Both teams were scoreless until there was only 3:26 left in the game, when Peabody senior Katie Brunelle broke the tie with a the goal that ended up being the difference, finalizing an undefeated season and locking down the state title.

"It was kind of a special bus ride [home after the game] because we were just thinking about the season and were like, 'Wow, we made history,'" Peabody junior Hayley Dowd told the source.

Dowd and other underclassmen on the team have big shoes to fill next fall, and now is the time for them to get ready. Whether that means hitting the gym or using practice soccer goals at their homes, they must start preparing to make a difference as soon as possible.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Make the most of batting practice by addressing mechanics in steps

It's easy for young baseball and softball players to get wrapped up in the commotion of batting practice. Sometimes it turns into a home run derby, and other times it may be looked at as a break after a long day. For some players, this is okay, but for the ones that actually need extra attention devoted to their swing, a weak batting practice session is only going to make matters worse.

Coaches are usually eager to tell their hitters about the minor tweaks they need to make to their swing after they strike out or pop up during a game, but rarely is there even time to address that individual adjustment during practice. Sure, hitters can keep it in mind during batting practice (BP), but with so many other parts of the swing to focus on, it's a hard way to break a bad habit.

The best way to tackle small adjustments to a swing is by breaking it down and concentrating on the areas that need attention. Likewise, the best way to focus on those minor mechanical issues is to break up batting practice into stations.

The only softball and baseball equipment that players need for these drills are batting tees, batting nets, baseballs or softballs and baseball or softball bats.

The first station should be a tee drill that allows hitters to focus on just their swings, rather than seeing the ball in. The next logical station should be a soft toss drill, where players should consistently hit the ball directly into the middle of the net. Sprinkle in some upper body strength exercises and perhaps a bunting station, but ultimately end with live BP and have players put the whole swing together.

For more drills and youth baseball coaching tips, visit and