January, 2015 OnDeck Newsletter goes out tomorrow

Our first volume of OnDeck for 2015 hits the virtual newsstands tomorrow. The price? It’s free! Want it delivered to your inbox? Sign up here and never miss an issue.

Youth Coach’s New Year’s Resolutions

Soon, spring seasons will be starting up all over the nation. Kids will be joining new teams, parents will be volunteering, (or being volunteered) to coach them. Whether you’re a wizened old veteran or it is your first time, here are some New Year’s coaching resolutions to consider.

  1. I will do my best to make every practice fun, competitive, and instructional. In that order.
  2. I will remember that afterward, each player on my team is going to be asked by his parents, “How was practice?”
  3. I will be organized, punctual and enthusiastic.
  4. I will strive to make all players feel cared-for and important whenever I see them.
  5. I will show respect to officials so as to set a positive example for my players.
  6. I will show respect to opposing coaches for the same reason.
  7. I will give my best effort at each practice and game and ask for the same from my players.
  8. However, I will also remember that these are not tiny pros, and that some of them may not be trying to “get to the next level,” make all-stars or even win a championship. Some may just want to enjoy the game and be on a team with friends.
  9. I will try to balance the two.
  10. My number one goal this season will be to have 100% of my players come back to play next year
  11. I will take some time each day to realize that I won’t always have the privilege of coaching these kids, and I’ll appreciate the little moments, things that have nothing to do with wins and losses, that make the experience so special.

Here’s hoping this season is the best yet for every coach – and for every youngster putting on that cherished uniform.

Brian Gotta is a former professional youth baseball coach and current volunteer Little League coach and board member. He is the President of CoachDeck and also author of four youth sports novels which can be found at www.sportsbooks4kids.com. He can be reached at brian@coachdeck.com

Cheer for More

By Tony Earp
At the soccer field, you probably hear the loudest cheers and yells when a goal is scored. All goals should be celebrated, and parents should let the kids know how proud they are of all their efforts that resulted in a goal. Scoring goals is one of the hardest things to do in the game, and it gets harder as players get older, and it is the moment of the game that all the near misses, great plays, and hard work lead up to for the team. When a goal is scored, it allows everyone to unleash all the emotion that has been bottled up waiting for that goal to come.
Are there other things that coaches and parents can cheer? There are a lot of things that need to happen to lead up to a goal. A tremendous amount of effort and outstanding play, both individually and by the entire team), occur throughout the entire game. There are moments we are missing that deserve as much, if not more, applaud and cheer from the sideline. This is especially true for the youngest age groups who are just learning to play the game. Developmentally there are many things the coaches want the players to attempt during the game, many of them are risky, and that often do not get much attention.
If we could recognize and celebrate the moments below more frequently, it would give players more motivation to do the things in the game that are beneficial to their development and the success of the team. If players know they will be recognized for the following actions, like when a goal is scored, they will be more likely to try to repeat those actions. Cheer for goals, cheer loudly when someone scores, but let’s get out of our chair and clap for the other important moments in the game.

1) Consecutive Passes
 – Have you ever counted how many times your child’s team connects more than a couple passes together? It is rarer than you think to see a team connect five or more passes together in a row without losing possession. When teams are able to string together more than just a couple passes and keep possession, moving the ball from one side of the field to the other, poking and prodding the other team’s defense looking for ways to get to goal, it should be something celebrated. Seeing a youth team do this is probably rarer than a goal being scored. Next time your team connects more than five passes, let the kids hear you on the sideline! Let the kids know you recognized the very difficult task they just accomplished as a group.

2) Successfully Playing out of the Back
 – Normally when a goalkeeper or field player gets the ball around their own goal the immediate reaction is to kick it away, out of bounds or up field, immediately without much thought or attempt to look at another option. It is something special to watch a player get a ball under pressure, around the goal, and with poise and confidence, keep possession of the ball by dribbling or passing out of pressure, or a goalkeeper to pass the ball to a teammates versus just punting it up field. It is an incredible risk, but a much higher level of play. This is what we want out of our players when they play the game. We want great confidence and control on the ball, and we want them to remain calm, not panic, and find solutions to problems. When you see a player, start an attack out of the defensive end of the field near the goal, especially under pressure; make sure that player is recognized for that level of play.

3) Courage and Creativity on the Dribble
 – This is a great one, and I have seen this happen more and more at the soccer field and it is a fantastic thing for players. Great coaches ask their players to try skill moves in games and to take players on with the soccer ball. At the younger age groups, it is instills confidence in players to have the ball at their feet, not panic under pressure, and be willing to be creative and courageous on the ball. When you see a player perform a skill move on the ball, taking a player on 1v1 or trying to protect the ball to keep possession, cheer for them when they do it. I have seen kids’ faces light up with joy when they do a step over and the parents cheer for them. The players get excited to try it again, and again, and the player’s confidence grows. The player is rewarded for trying something that is difficult, and could cause them to lose the ball, during a game. It helps players use the skills worked on in practice in games because the parents and coaches are saying, “It is safe to work on those skills here too!”

4) Movement or Run that Creates Space for Teammate
 – This is the most unrewarded, but very important, aspects of the game for players. In order to build an attack, create space to play through to get to goal, the movement of players off the ball has to be consistent and well-timed. We often think of moving off the ball to be able to receive the ball from a teammate. Yes, this is one type of movement, but moving off the ball to create space for someone else to receive a pass is an even higher level of movement. Many people miss this, as the player moving to create space for another player, does not get the ball and is not directly involved in the play. It is an “off the ball” skill in a game that is very important for the team to have success moving the ball up field. This might be harder to see, but when you do, make sure you let that player know you saw what their effort created!

5) Sprinting Back to Cover for Teammate
 – When teams attack, they commit players forward to create numbers up situations around the goal. A defender or midfielder can get caught up field trying to support the attack when possession is lost. Many players will stand and not recover when there is a turn over, but some players will immediately sprint back to help defend, and at times, work back into areas of the field that should be covered by another player. The recovering player will recognize his teammate is too far up the field and will not be able to recover in time, so the player recovers back for the player out of position. Instead of saying, “that is not my responsibility”, the player makes it his responsibility to help the player who cannot get back and the team keep a good defensive shape. Again, an act that often goes unrecognized, but should be applauded from the sideline.

6) Saves by Goalkeeper
 – Goalkeeper is an incredibly difficult and unrewarding position. A lot of the good things they do go unrecognized, but their mistakes are very public and costly. Throughout a game, a goalkeeper does a lot, even when they are not making saves, to prevent the other team from scoring goals. A lot of this is their communication and organization of their back-line, coming off their line and cleaning up balls served over the top and into the goal area, and starting the attack when they get the ball. When a goalkeeper is called on to make a save, it is expected a save is made. There is not a lot of praise when the goalkeeper stops the ball from going into the goal, but plenty of constructive criticism when a goal is allowed. Even “routine” saves, are very difficult, although goalkeepers make them look easy, and those moments should be cheered and celebrated. It does not have to be a diving save, tipping the ball over the bar, on a shot heading for the upper corner of the goal. All saves are crucial for a team to have a chance of being successful. As the least understood position on the field, a lot goes into every save a goalkeeper makes and it is time to recognize it!

7) Incredible Sportsmanship
 
– In a time when you often see the “bad side” of sports on Sports Center or your local leagues, seeing great sportsmanship during a match is becoming a rare occurrence. Games, where there should be healthy competition, can quickly turn into a disappointing display of disrespect among the players on the field. It seems it is hard for players to compete, aggressively with one another, without it becoming a personal conflict between the players. When a player demonstrates sportsmanship and class on the field, especially in situations when it is hard, that behavior should be reinforced by the crowd with thunderous applaud. I have seen players correct a referee’s call saying, “No, that was out on me. It is their ball.” I have seen players help a player up who they knocked down and fouled. I have even seen a player who was fouled get up, and say, “No worries, just part of the game.” It seems strange, but great sportsmanship like this allows players to compete hard and learn how to react positively to negative situations in the game. It is better than emulating the players they see on TV blow up on another player each time they are touched or are always trying to get a cheap call from the referee.
In short, there are many aspects of the game that can be celebrated from the sideline by parents and coaches. Yes, the goals are what will always get us out of our seats, but let’s show the kids that we recognize other moments in the game when they do great things that are not easy and just as important for their development. Let’s cheer for more!
Tony Earp directs SuperKick/TeamZone Columbus’ Soccer Skills programs. Tony has a Masters in Education from The Ohio State University. Tony was a standout player both academically and athletically at The Ohio State University, earning multiple honors both on the field and in the classroom. He can be reached at tearp@superkickcolumbus.com

Youth Sports Coaching – Not a Job, But a Calling

By John O’Sullivan

So they call you Coach, huh? Have you ever stopped to consider what that means?

You have taken on one of the most beautiful, powerful, and influential positions a person can ever have. Some people may call it a job, and others a profession, but in reality, being a great coach is not that at all. It is so much more than that.

By becoming a coach, you have chosen to work with young athletes. You have chosen to guide them through the trials and tribulations of learning two beautiful games: sport and life. You are in a position to change their lives forever, not only by making them better athletes, but better people. You are a leader, you are a role model, you are a person who serves your athletes, and you are a person to whom they entrust their physical and emotional well-being.

Never take this responsibility lightly.

Coaching can be one of the most difficult jobs in the world. We work with young athletes in highly emotional and public situations. We keep score, and because of that our work is often judged week to week, even day to day, based upon the performance of a bunch of kids, how well they play, how much they play, and where they play.

Every time we coach, our words and actions can have a huge impact in the lives of our players, both positively and negatively. We are faced with moments of success and failure, and with calls from officials both good and bad. Our words and actions in these situations can stick with our players forever.

The thing is, we don’t get to choose which things stick, and which ones they forget, so in everything we say and do, we have to choose wisely.

Coaching also means you will be dealing with parents. Many of them are wonderful, and will support you and be grateful that you have taken the time and energy to teach and mentor their child. Celebrate them, and be thankful they are on your team.

Others are not so wonderful. They have unrealistic expectations for their children and the team. They will be a friend to your face, and an enemy behind your back. They will make life miserable for their own child, and often for you and the rest of the team as well. Do your best to educate them and minimize their negativity, and empower others to do the same. Most importantly, be a trusted mentor for their child. Those kids need a positive role model more than most, and it’s not their fault that mom or dad has lost the plot.

The science of coaching and teaching has evolved tremendously in the last few decades. We now know that many coaching and teaching methods used when we were kids are not as effective as once thought. Fear and intimidation does not work as well as an environment of love and respect. Lines and lectures are a thing of the past. Rote repetition is effective only to a point. Just because you taught something does not mean your players learned it. Just because you went over it does not mean they retained it and can replicate it in a game. Far too many coaches are focused on running exercises in practice that are successful 90% of the time, when in reality messy practices that replicate game situations are far more powerful learning tools. Do you have these type of practices on your clipboard?

Every player we coach, we leave a lasting impact. There is no way around this; you will influence every player you come in contact with. What will your influence be? Will it be something positive and affirming that bolsters your athletes and serves them throughout life? Will it be a more fulfilling experience for you and your players, more enjoyable, and more successful?

Or will it be something that tears them down, that diminishes their self worth, that makes them fearful of failure, or ties their self-worth with sports success? We all mean well, but sometimes when we are pushing to win a game, or talking to our teams after a tough loss, we say and do things that we later regret. I know in the past I have, and I never considered for a moment that my harsh, personal and often over the top criticism of a kid might follow him or her off the field. But it did.

I believe that being a coach is so much more than running a bunch of practices and organizing kids for games. It is about connecting with your players as people first, and athletes second.

It is about being passionate, and loving the game you teach, so your players will play with passion and love.

It is about empathy, making every player feel important, and giving him or her a role on the team.

It is about integrity and consistency for kids during good times and bad.

It is about being a model of the behavior you expect from your athletes, both on and off field of battle.

It is about being a teacher, not only of the X’s an O’s of a sport, but about life, about optimism, about persistence,  and about character.

No, coaching cannot simply be a job. It must be a vocation, a calling to a place that best suits your skills, your passion and your ability.

You can change lives with a single word, a single pat on the back, and a single conversation that says “I believe in you.”

The world needs great coaches more than ever before. The world needs you!

Are you ready?

John O’Sullivan is the Founder of the Changing the Game Project, and author of the national bestseller Changing the Game: The Parents Guide to Raising Happy, High-Performing Athletes and Giving Youth Sports back to Our Kids. He is a longtime soccer player and coach on the youth, college and professional level, and a nationally known speaker on coaching and parenting in youth sports. His work has appeared in The Huffington Post, Soccer America, and SoccerWire.com, and he recently gave a TED talk on “Changing the Game in Youth Sports.”

Play the Ball, Not the Other Team!

By Olan Suddeth

Raise your hand if you have ever uttered one of the following phrases in a close or important game:

“This is it… it’s do or die time!”

“The game is on the line!”

“We win now, or we go home.”

“We’ve got to have some runs now!”

“Jimmy, we’ve got to have an out right here.”

Now, the rest of you liars raise your hands.

Yes, we’re all guilty of it – adding artificial pressure to a game situation. We want our players to realize how important this game/inning/at bat is, but we end up instead reducing their chances to perform well, thanks to the added pressure we just placed on them. 

I once read a very enlightening article by Jack Stallings, who at the time of his retirement was the winningest active baseball coach in the NCAA. Coach Stallings spoke about performance in the clutch, and how baseball was a percentage game. If a player performs at regular levels in clutch situation, he is absolutely a clutch player. The key behind this is to remove the outside pressures associated with a clutch situation. After all, the rules don’t change – a batter still has to hit the ball, a pitcher still has to throw strikes, a fielder still has to scoop and throw.

How many times have you heard coaches moan that “if only their team could play as well as they practice”? Did you ever wonder exactly why the team did so poorly in those situations? Sure, the other team has something to do with it, but a team that fields well in practice should still field well in games. A pitcher who throws strikes in warmups should do so in clutch situations. A batter who has a good eye and makes solid contact in laid back situations has the ability to do so when the game is on the line.

The secret is to get your team to not look at the scoreboard, to not think about what is at stake, and to not worry about the other team. Baseball comes down to a distinct set of skills, and in practices, those skills are all you care about. Now, translate this to game situations.

Keep your players loose. Focus your coaching on the technical aspects of the game, just as you do in practice. Don’t get upset or tense – these emotions are conveyed to your team. Reiterate that they are playing the ball, not the other team, not the scoreboard. 

If you can reduce the pressure that kids (and coaches) place on them in “clutch” situations, you will see drastic improvements in their results.

Go forth and follow this advice! I promise that I will try to do the same.

Olan Suddeth is a Little League coach in the Birmingham, Alabama area. His website, Youth Baseball Info, offers free articles, drills, and tips for youth baseball coaches, parents and fans.

On cheating

We don’t know if the New England Patriots deflated balls in Sunday’s AFC Championship game against the Indianapolis Colts. We have yet to read or hear what advantage would be gained by doing so either. This is not about any specific incident in any particular sport. But here’s what we are tired of: We’re tired of players who are proven cheaters or scoundrels being wholeheartedly welcomed by adoring fans just because of their ability to hit a baseball, catch a football, or dunk a basketball. We’re tired of the culture that encourages fans to forgive and forget sins committed by individuals wearing their favorite jerseys when little or no real regret or repair has been offered by the offender. This article by John Berman is about one team. But if more fans from all sports felt this way and followed-through, maybe fewer of our heroes would end up disappointing us.

How every Packers fan felt Sunday

If  you haven’t seen this video, it’s only 50 seconds long, but it will make your day. This poor little six year-old can’t stop crying after watching his beloved Packers lose in overtime to the Seattle Seahawks. When he sees a ‘Hawks player riding a bicycle around the field in celebration he goes over the edge. The little boy’s mother is tremendous.

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