How to Raise a Lion Chaser!

By John O’Sullivan

“Coach, I don’t want to take a penalty shot,” said a very nervous 13 year-old player of mine a few years back. We were in the Oregon Soccer State Cup semifinals, and this talented but not quite confident young girl looked in no mood to take a shot in the penalty shootout to determine whether or not our team advanced to the state finals.

“I’ll take it,” said her teammate Rachel, with a look of determination on her face. I smiled. The player who backed out of shooting was a great player, but not always for the big occasion. Her teammate who volunteered was also very good, but I smiled because she had actually MISSED the deciding penalty kick a year earlier at the same stage of the competition. Yet here she was, unfazed. Of course I let her take the kick (and if you want to know what happened, read on).

Why is it that some players see obstacles and problems as opportunities, while others focus on the negative consequences of failure?

What if our greatest opportunities in life lie right beneath our nose, masked as our biggest problems, our worst failures, and our greatest fears?

These are the questions that are asked in Mark Batterson’s fantastic book In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day: How to Survive and Thrive When Opportunity Roars, which was recommended to me by my friend Joshua Medcalf at Train to be CLUTCH (thanks Joshua, what a book!) The book is written by a Christian pastor, and thus has many references to God and the bible, but regardless if you are a Christian or not this is well worth the read!

In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day tells the story of the Old Testament hero Benaiah, a famous warrior who gained notoriety by literally chasing a lion into an icy, snow filled pit and emerging victorious. Batterson uses that story as a metaphor to explain how life often positions us in the right place at the right time, only in Batterson’s words “the right place seems like the wrong place, and the right time often seems like the wrong time.”

As a coach, we want a team full of lion chasers. We want fearless, confident competitors, risk takers, and athletes who are unfazed by pressure.

As a parent, there is perhaps nothing more frustrating then seeing your child presented with a great opportunity, yet paralyzed by fear and uncertainty. When we look back at our own lives, most of our regrets are often the things we didn’t do (inaction), and not the ones we did (action).

Of course we don’t want our children to make some of the same mistakes we did. Yet far more importantly, we don’t want them to miss the opportunities we missed out on. With the perspective of adulthood, we can see what lies before them, and we have the opportunity to create a world for them where they see opportunity instead of problems, and they take the plunge instead of fearing failure. This is especially true when it comes to sports. We don’t want fearful athletes who lack confidence.

WE WANT LION CHASERS!

Sadly, the path I see many parents heading down is not the path of raising a lion chaser. I see three big ways that well-intentioned parents and coaches destroy an athlete’s ability to become a lion chaser.

  1. When we see an opportunity and decide to determine our kids goals for them, instead of accepting their goals, we prevent them from becoming lion chasers. They will never develop the autonomy and intrinsic motivation to chase something great if they are chasing after the things we want for them, instead of the things they want for themselves.
  2. When we push our kids toward our goals instead of toward their goals, not only do they push back, but they become acutely aware of the fact that they are letting us down over and over. Instead of becoming the passenger on the quest for whatever dreams our children possess, while providing love and support, we become the driver. Pretty soon we may notice they are no longer in the car.
  3. Perhaps most damaging, when we protect our kids from failure, when we swoop down and pluck them from every challenge (the helicopter parent) or when we remove all obstacles in their path for them (the lawnmower parent), we prevent them from developing the grit and determination to chase that proverbial lion into the snowy pit.

If we want our athletes to make the most of every opportunity, then we can help them see the opportunities, but they must plunge head first into the challenges through their own volition, and not ours. Our athletes must be the ones who choose to face their fears, and thus achieve success in Batterson’s words by doing “the best with what you have where you are.”

So how can we do this?

Here are five ways you can raise a lion chaser of your own:

  1. Lion chasers realize that impossible odds can become improbably victories. While many athletes fear failure, and thus flee from any task or dream that seems too big, a lion chaser will embrace the challenge. She knows that there are few consequences for failure, since, well, you were supposed to fail. But if you win, well then you have really achieved something. Teach your athletes that the bigger the chances of failure, the greater and more fulfilling the achievement is when successful.
  2. Lion chasers cure the fear of failure through failure. The cure for the fear of failure is not success; it’s failure. You must be exposed to small quantities of whatever it is you are afraid of in order to build up immunity to it. Often times, the thought of failure is far more powerful than the actual event. Give your athlete an environment of love and respect, so they know that your love for them does not depend upon the result or performance. Then, if your child is a dominant player in his age group, then give him the opportunity to play up an age or two, so he does not experience only success. If he is always on a winning team, then find him a weaker one to guest play for, and experience disappointment. If he is dominant at one sport, try another sport where he may have to be a role player for a while. These opportunities to fail and learn from it are invaluable! As Batterson says, “lion chasers choose fear.” I would add that they also choose uncertainty.
  3. Lion chasers redefine success and failure. When we look back upon our lives, we are not only grateful for the good things, but for the bad things that taught us, toughened us, and prepared us for the good things to come. Instead of being the parent who is always there to “get your child out of” difficult circumstances, instead become the person who advises your child to “see what you can GET OUT of this situation.” We can help our athletes change their perspective from “winning and losing” to “winning and learning.”  We can help our kids play to a higher purpose than winning. The importance of their journey is no longer reaching a destination, but what they become on the path. And on that path, lion chasers never let what they can’t do prevent them from doing what they can do.
  4. Lion chasers focus on effort and not ability. It is important that as parents and coaches, we do the same. Praise our children for the effort, which they control each and every day. They do not control wins and losses in most sporting events, as opponents, referees, weather conditions and the like all have an effect upon the outcome. But a lion chaser controls her effort and focus each and every day. She knows that everybody wants to win on game day, but true champions are the athletes who want to win six weeks out, six months out, and six years out. She prepares with great effort and focus, and her coaches and parents praise her for that which she controls. As George Bernard Shaw says, “People are always blaming their circumstances for what they are. I don’t believe in circumstances. The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and if they can’t find them, they make them.
  5. Lion chasers know that playing it safe is risky. Small changes, small choices and small investments can pay off handsomely and have major consequences. So many athletes never go after a lofty goal because it is so far off that they forget to invest in the commitments it takes to get there. Other athletes are afraid to have a big dream, and to give their very best, for it can be quite humbling to give your all and fail. It is easier to say “I really didn’t care about today” then it is to say “I gave everything and I am not there yet.” But the lion chaser always cares. He adds an extra hour or two a week of practice. He works on eating and sleeping better. These are small things, one percent improvements over time that add up and make a huge difference. It all starts with taking the first risk to dream big, and making the initial commitments to follow that dream. It all starts with NOT HAVING regrets over inaction!

So what happened to Rachel, the thirteen year old girl I mentioned above, the one who volunteered to take the deciding penalty kick in a state semifinal?

She missed. Again. Just like she had the year before. And just like the year before, the team was eliminated and heart broken, as was Rachel. But she was different than most. She didn’t want to quit. She became more determined to get better.

A few years later I had the opportunity to coach Rachel again, only now she was a sixteen year old elite level goalkeeper. We were playing in a high level college showcase event against some of the top teams in the US, and you guessed it, we were in a penalty kick shootout. Yet here is the catch. Rachel, and some other team members, had gotten food poisoning a few hours earlier. Rachel was terribly sick, and I told her she did not have to participate in the shootout as she could not stop vomiting.

Her response: ‘Coach, I am playing.”

With that, she picked up the garbage can that was at midfield and carried it over to the goal we were shooting on. She proceeded to save three out of five penalties our opponent shot. In between each and every one, she walked over to the garbage can and vomited. Can you imagine the look on our opponents’ faces?

I cannot think of a prouder moment in all the years I have coached.

Today Rachel is playing college soccer at one of the top programs in the country. I know she will be successful, not because of some special athletic gift she has, or any great coaching she got from me. That is the bare minimum that it takes to succeed at a high level.

Rachel will be a huge success in sport and life because she sees opportunity instead of risk. She takes failure and success in stride. She marches to her own beat instead of trying to please everyone else. And whenever others take a step back because they see problems, failure and fear, she steps forward and says “I’ll take it.”

Rachel is a LION CHASER!

Will your kids be next?

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.”

Overcome Two Very Common Baseball Hitting Problems!

By Larry Cicchiello

Tension Is A Hitter’s Worst Enemy!

I’ve heard this expression dozens of times and could not agree more. No, let’s make that hundreds of times. If you have tension in your swing, it is next to impossible to hit the ball effectively. On the other hand, relaxing is a great asset to have.

An outstanding baseball coach I know has his hitters take a deep breath before every pitch and go into relax mode. Please note that I said outstanding coach and not good or very good. It is often referred to as “the calm before the storm.” Hitting a baseball well on a consistent basis is NOT an easy chore. If you have tension before and during the swing, it makes it an almost impossible chore. A smooth and gracious swing is what you want to strive for and tension will make it very difficult.

Like I’ve mentioned before, sometimes a slight waggle at the plate will help you to relax. Or you can wiggle your fingers on the bat while waiting for the pitch. It’s very difficult to have your body tense up if your body is moving. Learning how to relax at the plate should be very helpful to you!

You Must Be Short To The Ball!

1. You must go from point “A” where you are loaded up, to point “B” where you are making contact, in a straight line. The very beginning of the swing is NOT level at all. It is a DOWNWARD movement when going from A to B and NOT a horizontal movement. Way too many players level out their swing at the start. The reason it is such a common problem is because they have heard the words “level swing” hollered out to them since they were eight years old. I wish I had a dime for every time I’ve heard a coach, parent or teammate holler those two words out. Only at the point of contact should the swing level out and NOT before that. You can not lose a valuable fraction of a second if it takes a fast ball a fraction of a second to get to the catcher’s mitt. Look at it as simple math.

2. Another possibility for your swing to be “long and looping” may be that you are dropping your hands at the beginning of the swing. This can cause you to be “long” to the ball and cause your bat to have a slight drag.

3. You may be pushing your hands out too far away from your body and that will create a longer swing. Remember the expression, “hands back and bat forward.”

4. You must keep your front shoulder closed. If you open the front shoulder too early, it will cause your bat to drag through the hitting zone. This is often referred to as “casting” the bat and not swinging the bat. “Casting” is what you do when you go fishing and not when you swing at a baseball.

Let’s face it. There are hundreds of baseball tips on hitting. Having a tension free swing, being “short to the ball” and keeping the front shoulder closed should be right near the top of your list! They are three things that are absolutely critical for successful baseball hitting.

Larry is the successful author of several very user friendly eBooks and CD’s covering 320 topics on playing or coaching excellent baseball. ANY player, coach or parent who wants to help their child will be fully equipped! Check out some FREE baseball tips on hitting and FREE baseball pitching tips at LarryBaseball.com.

 

Formations and Positions – Not for U6-U8 Play

By Rick Meana

Why, do you ask?

Because children at this age do not understand, do not have the capacity to grasp the concept of “functionality.” They don’t understand that the pieces make up the pie as a whole. They only can understand that pieces exist, but don’t understand how they contribute to the make-up of the whole. In school they learn about basic math, reading, and writing, with an emphasis on fun discovery and development. They are not grouped by accountants, lawyers, or doctors, each having their own curriculum. Everyone receives the same basic curriculum that helps form a foundation for later education and applications.

Before players learn functionality, they need to first experience basic movements. Through spontaneous uninhibited play, children can learn to solve problems, invent, create, and become aware of their physical relationship with their environment. Small-sided game play offers all these factors, and in addition, contributes to skill development. This becomes a foundation for the next levels of play.

Besides, the use of terms such as ‘defenders’, ‘fullbacks,’ ‘midfielders’, and ‘strikers’ are analogous to asking a six-year-old to describe the duties of an accountant or lawyer. Do defenders just defend? Not attack? Does that mean that they need to stay close to their goal? (Usually, these players have been seen standing on the edge of their penalty box 50 yards away from the action – after being instructed by their coach to stay back.) These are literal definitions of positions that are misconceptions of the game of soccer. Usually, these misconceptions derive from other sports where positions literally are constants of what action players’ perform/areas of the field, i.e., baseball. This is not true in the modern game of soccer.

Let’s take a look at the modern “adult” game to gain a perspective. Players who are termed “defenders,” are becoming notorious for scoring goals, while “forwards” who have become famous for their scoring prowess must now be able to defend and chase down assertive back players. Coaches have also had to convert forwards to defenders because of a shortage of attacking defenders. Players today, no matter their position, need to be fluent in all “soccer skills.”

Midfielders, once known for their ability to launch attacks and work at a high rate for 90 minutes are being converted to defenders, and so on. All this goes to show that positions and formations aren’t the answer. Besides, it is not necessarily being in a designated “position” or being a part of a formation that helps the players solve the problem/situations in the game, but rather the ability of the player to read visually the cues, that is the movement of the ball, movement of the teammates and opponents, and quickly execute a movement/decision that will be effective.
Soccer is a game where the players are constantly changing their movement and activity patterns because the game demands – fluidity, interchangeability, unpredictability, quick thought and execution. Adherence to the formations will not aid players in developing the foundation of the game needed to meet these demands.

The activity in “small-sided” games, where players are not inhibited by formations and positions, result in a variety of movement patterns, more contacts with the ball and other players, and is more challenging to a player physically. It also offers many opportunities for players to make decisions and solve problems based on the conditions that are encountered in the game. This is the “learning environment” that is best for the players at this age and maturity level.

Further proof that this environment is best; can be seen in those professional coaches, who in order to economize their practice, efficiently use small-sided games often, to provide a more challenging environment than 11-a-side play. And that is proof- positive that small-sided games, are important for this age group, however, formations and designated positions should not be used by coaches of U6-U8 players.
Rick Meana has been the New Jersey Youth Soccer Director of Coaching for over 16 years and in that time he has directly impacted the education and development of thousands of players and coaches from all levels. Rick has served on both the US Youth Soccer ODP Region I Boys and Girls Coaching Staffs for more than 18 years and currently is the director of the Under-12 Boys South Development Camp. He holds the USSF ‘A’ License and National Youth License, as well as the NSCAA Premier Diploma.

 

One of our favorite baseball drills

With over fifty drills in our baseball deck, it is hard to pick a favorite. but Around the Horn is one that came to our mind the other day while watching a Little League all-star practice. The coaches were doing a version of the drill, but it wasn’t quite as exciting. They had one player at each base and the rest of the team in line by home plate. The drill was to throw the ball around from home to first, to second, to third and back to home, then continue the sequence. Each player would throw and then jog to the next base and eventually after a dozen times around everyone had been around the bases. The coaches were chatting with each other, not paying much attention, and when it was over they read out the time it took, over two minutes, and that was it.

We prefer our version. Divide the team up equally at each bag, (i.e. four at home, four at first, etc.). Begin by throwing counter-clockwise around the bases, (home to first, then to second, and so forth) and at each base, after players make their throw they step back and let the next up occupy the bag. This continues until at least every player has been involved and then coaches yell, “reverse!” at which time the ball begins going clockwise. After this has progressed for several rotations the coaches will then begin instructing individual base throws, by saying, “Three!”, “One!”, “Four!” etc. Players must be on their toes and able to react to the sudden call, which will make them much more adept at being able to adjust and throw to a base on the fly in a game.

Baseball drills

We’ve honed them over the years. We’ve swapped out some older ones with new fresh ones and now we think we’ve got it about perfect! If you need baseball drills you can use “on-the-fly,” so when you show up at practice straight from work and haven’t had time to put anything together you can still run a great practice. Our drills all come with instructions on how to turn them into fun games that competitive kids will love to play and want to do again and again. No one should ever run a boring baseball practice, especially at the youth, Little League level. Get a CoachDeck and watch every player show up for every practice!

Soccer Drills

There are tons of places to get online soccer drills and that’s great for those times when you have nothing else to do and you’re not busy and  you can just surf the net for hours on end and watch videos. Maybe some volunteer coaches do that. But our experience has been not many coaches have that kind of time on their hands. That’s why we developed CoachDeck. A handy pack of 52 drills broken into four color-coded categories designed for recreational mom and dad coaches who can barely show up for each practice on time from work. If that description fits you, our deck of cards might be just what you need. And we also have a deck for baseball, football, basketball and softball.

Boy saves dad from foul ball

If you haven’t seen this yet, check it out. That’s why you bring your ball glove to the park. And that’s also why, when you have front row seats, you keep your eyes on the ball at all times. Unless, of course, you have a slick-fielding son with a ball glove sitting next to you.

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