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By Brian Gotta, President of CoachDeck
It sounds so enticing…online coach training. Drills, streaming videos, quizzes, printable practice plans…everything a coach could ever need or want at his or her fingertips, just a high-speed internet connection away. Its a great theory, but one that fails to account for two things lacking in most volunteer coaches.
What are those two things? Time and Desire.
Before you discount this as an opinion from a biased point of view, please consider a couple of things: First, before there was any such thing on the market as online coach training, we had the idea. We were excited. We launched a site called CoachGuide with all of the bells and whistles, the drills, the practice plans, etc. We marketed it aggressively, even giving it away free to all coaches who wanted to gain additional knowledge. It was a huge bust.
Virtually no one took the course, even though it was user-friendly and full of great information. Now, with CoachDeck, we work with thousands of leagues around North America and get feedback from them as to why they love giving their coaches our decks of cards. And what we hear universally is what we learned the hard way when we were listening to crickets chirp at CoachGuide.
Volunteer coaches are just that – volunteers. They don’t get paid to do this. Yet we expect them to take valuable chunks of their schedules to become educated and prepared? A few will. And they’re the exception. The majority however just volunteered to coach because they wanted to spend some precious time with their kids or because nobody else was willing to do it. And there is nothing wrong with that. We need those folks. But after working at their real job all day, not many will come home, have dinner, put the kids to bed, and then say goodnight to their spouse and log onto a website and watch videos and tutorials. Most just don’t care enough about it.
Think of it this way. Ask anyone you know this question: “Want to spend hours online in a virtual classroom? Or would you rather play cards? Hoping our parent-volunteers will sequester themselves in front of a computer screen (or, for that matter, a coaching manual) and become experts, when they may only be planning to coach this one season and when they’re already devoting so much of their time, is unrealistic. We should simply expect that they are prompt to each practice and game, that they treat the kids well, and they set a positive example of sportsmanship and fair play. Anything else is a bonus.
And that’s where CoachDeck comes in. When coaches show up at practice straight from work they need something they can scan quickly while the kids are getting out of their parents cars. The fact is that if they had watched multiple videos the night before, trying to go from memory the next day they’d be more likely to get things wrong than right anyway. But with our deck of cards there is no guessing. They’re able to run drills that teach fundamental skills and can be made into games that kids love. With no experience, no extensive knowledge of the game and no “studying,” they can run a perfect practice.
The reason coaches prefer CoachDeck is it is not intimidating. In fact, it’s fun. A lot more fun than a username and password and a guy standing in front of a camera grimly explaining proper footwork. Hey, if they want to go online and become coaching experts, more power to them. The more education the better. But if we depend on them to all be as motivated as we are, we’re setting ourselves up for failure.
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.booksbygotta.com. He can be reached at brian@
By Tony Earp
By Mike Epstein
(Read Part One of this article
Work the hands in front!
The hitter’s hands must work in front of his body for a number of reasons. One of the most important concerns the notion of staying “inside” the ball. However, another important reason is it allows the hitter’s bat to stay as close to 90º to the oncoming pitch as possible. When a hitter does this, he maximizes the exposure of his bat’s “sweet spot” to the pitch. In addition, he has a much greater chance of keeping inside pitches fair, and not hooking them foul.
Downside of being “hands-conscious”
If a hitter “throws his hands at the ball,” none of these advantaged hitting positions come into play. And, if the hitter’s preoccupation is with his HANDS, he will most assuredly “lose” his hips and lower half. Once a player loses his legs, he loses the strongest muscles in his body! This restricts him from taking advantage of the vital separation of the upper and lower torsos (torque) which is the root of all speed and power in the swing!
Perhaps we can get a better picture of this by looking at a pitcher throw. If we isolate a pitcher’s movements into simply throwing—with no lower body movement whatsoever—it is very obvious why no one pitches this way. If the pitcher just stood on the mound and threw the ball solely with his arm and did not use his lower body at all, you’d probably say, “Why would a pitcher do that?” When he throws with his arm only, he loses the most powerful muscles in his body and all the vital torquing, momentum, and rhythmic movements he needs to provide maximum velocity to his pitches.
So it is with a hitter, although it is more “camouflaged” than with the pitching motion. When a hitter has a preoccupation with his hands, he also loses the lower body advantage. When a hitter tells me he thinks “hands to the ball” when he is hitting, I simply ask him if he’d ever consider using a 17” bat? Because that’s what he’s indeed using when he only uses half of his body to hit with.
Before the minus3s, a hitter WAS able to use only his hands and arms because the ultra-light, ultra-resilient aluminum bats made it possible. The bat did all the work. With the heavier, less resilient minus3s, however, this makes little sense. We’ve got to adjust our thinking here. Take a hard look at the players producing all the runs in amateur baseball and you’ll see very few who are not utilizing rotational mechanics. Even though many of their coaches teach “hands to the ball.” Kids are going to do what works; every hitter wants to be successful.
Now, mind you, I’m not saying every hitter must use his lower body and be rotational. Far from it. But after so many years instructing hitters, I am convinced there are many more players capable of really DRIVING the ball to the gaps if they were given a fair shot at mechanics that promote this. After all, can you name one player who wouldn’t want to hit the ball harder (or further) than he is right now? I can’t, either. Yet, we take this ability away from hitters by communicating cues like “throw your hands at the ball” and teaching mechanics which constrain all but the elite hitters from accomplishing this. Go figure.
It’s got to make sense!
But, I think the most salient point of all might be just “plain ol’ common sense.” IF we tell a hitter to “stay inside the ball” because of its importance to productive hitting, how can we also tell him “hands to the ball?” If the pitch is on the outer half of the plate, how can he then stay “inside” the ball—and also let his hands go “to” the ball? It can’t happen, yet we continually instruct hitters to do them at the same time. It is confusing and also frustrating for him.
The American Baseball Coaches Association and other interested groups are at this very moment addressing their concern over the growing number of youngsters who leave baseball early for other sports. Hitting a baseball is a very demanding exercise, requiring a high degree of athleticism, mental toughness, visual acuity, and a strong work ethic. It’s certainly not for everyone. But, far too many youngsters quit for other sports because they don’t hit well. One of the reasons for this shortcoming is the conflicting information coaches dole out without thinking it completely through. Chalk it up to my pet peeve, “conventional wisdom.” We must teach with objective facts rather than subjective opinions.
Hitting isn’t for everyone, but…
Every player can’t be a big leaguer. But, with some common sense teaching from my DVDs, CD-Roms, and books, ANYONE can easily teach the right information and furnish the mechanical blueprint for a player to correctly stay “inside” the ball. A proper hitting technique can give more players an enjoyable and fun experience. In all my years in this game, I’ve never known one player who hit .150 who had “fun.” Having first-rate information is a good start.
When we tell hitters to “stay inside the ball” AND “throw your hands at the ball” in practically the same breath, we defeat our purpose and goal of trying to get the player to hit his potential.
Why make such a tough thing to do—tougher?
Good luck, continued success, and “get a good pitch to hit!”
Mike Epstein is one of America’s top hitting analysts, instructors, speakers, and published writers. His uncanny ability to simplify the complexities of the baseball swing has thrust him to the forefront of America’s hitting coaches. The Collegiate Baseball Newspaper calls Mike “Baseball’s hitting guru.”
Prior to Mike’s teaching years, he was an All-American baseball player and still holds the highest lifetime batting average of .384 at the University of California (Berkeley). He was a member of the first United States Olympic Baseball Team, leading the team in many offensive hitting categories (Japan, 1964). He was named the Sporting News and Topps Minor League Player-of-the-Year in 1966.His website is http://www.mikeepsteinhitting.com/
By Dr. Darrell Burnett
I have reasonable and realistic expectations.
A major frustration for kids, in sports or in life, is trying to live up to expectations of adults in their lives. At times, youngsters have a strong need for adult approval. If they don’t get it, due to unrealistic expectations from adults, it can be a major source of low self-worth. Since a coach often plays a major role in the life of a youngster, it is important to keep expectations reasonable. A good coach’s skill expectations are based on the knowledge that all youngsters in youth sports 1) vary in their development of physical coordination skills, 2) go through plateaus in their skill development and 3) have growth spurts which can affect their coordination.
A good coach’s motivation expectations are based on the awareness that there are three levels of motivation for kids in youth sports: 1) some kids, especially the entry-level youngsters, are playing because their parents enrolled them, 2) many youngster are playing because it’s a social event allowing them to be with their friends, 3) a smaller group of youngsters, beginning at about age 11 or 12, are playing because they enjoy sports for sports’ sake.
A good coach’s dedication expectations are based on the knowledge that the level of dedication to practice and mastery of skills depends upon the level of motivation in a youngster. A good coach also knows that dedication wanes when playing the sport is no longer fun.
I treat kids with respect, avoiding put-downs, sarcasm or ridicule.
When a youngster signs up to play sports, he/she deserves to be treated with respect. This means no put-downs, no sarcasm and no ridiculing by the coach. Dr. Thomas Tutko, renowned author, lecturer and sports psychologist, notes that any youth sports coach who volunteers to take on the job of guiding kids in any given sport needs to be careful of how he/she comes across to the youngsters. He uses the words “potential child abuse” when describing the verbal and emotional harassment that sometimes takes place in the name of “coaching” in youth sports.
I remind kids not to get down on themselves.
I once observed a brilliant piece of youth sports coaching at a basketball game. A youngster missed a lay-up on a fast break. The coach substituted for the youngster. He then said to him, “Son, I didn’t take you out because of the missed lay-up. I took you out because after you missed the lay-up you hung your head, delayed in getting back on defense and allowed your opponent to score an easy basket. If you get down on yourself after you make a mistake all it does is give your opponent an advantage. Now, get back in there, learn from your mistakes and quit beating yourself up!”
Youth is a time of mixed feelings. Kids can go from “cocky” to “unsure” in seconds. A steady reminder from the coach can help them to keep from falling apart when thing aren’t going well.
I remember not to take myself too seriously during the game.
Cartoons have a way of reminding us about some of our weaknesses. In an obvious parody of the singing fat lady, a cartoon depicts a youngster coming off the playing field after a defeat. The parents are beckoning him to the car. He responds, “Not yet mom and dad, the game’s not over ’til the coach cries!” In yet another cartoon, as the scoreboard indicates a loss for the home team, a youngster has his hand on the coach’s drooping shoulder, saying, “It’s OK coach, it’s just a Little League game!”
Although it’s a volunteer position, some youth sports coaches seem to have made it their “life.” The same person who appears so relaxed and easy going away from practice and the game takes on a whole new persona as “coach.” At times, there seems to be entirely too much ownership and identity tied in with the position. In youth sports involving a “draft” there seems to be the danger of a little too much ego involvement. In other words, it’s as though the coach was thinking; “I drafted you kids. If you don’t produce it makes me look bad.”
(Next issue, Part 3: Fun, Teamwork and Good Sportsmanship)
Dr. Darrell Burnett is a clinical psychologist and a certified sports psychologist specializing in youth sports. He has been in private practice for 25+ years in Laguna Niguel, California. His book, IT’S JUST A GAME! (Youth, Sports, & Self Esteem: A Guide for Parents), is described at his website, http://www.djburnett.com, along with his other books, booklets and CDs on youth sports and family life.
Yesterday we told you about a Little League in Oregon that found out a board member was stealing and had essentially cleaned them out. Now, on the other side of the country, we find out it’s happened again. Come on folks, a little morality and, a little more oversight.
We hate bringing you stories like these. but unfortunately, its the world we live in. This is a league that purchased CoachDecks from us a few years back. If you’d like to help, in the article you’ll see there is a fundraising site set up to take donations.