Mound Management (Part 1)

“Be great at Committing to your Process — everything else is secondary”

Being “Process Oriented” (as opposed to Result Oriented) is the single most important principle to understand about a players’ Mental Game approach.  Being Process Oriented means that you are so committed to this action that the results of your action no longer exist.  The present moment is all that matters.  And the instinctive nature of an athlete can take over because “thoughts” cease to exist.

This state of mind, which has also been characterized by being in The Zone or being Unconscious, allows the athlete to feel a sense of relaxation, freedom and trust because the only thing that matters is NOW — the mind is no longer concerned with what happened, or what may happen because it is too preoccupied with what is happening.

The irony is that this state of mind seems to be more familiar in practice situations because there tends to be little “real” consequences at stake in practice, and little to think about.  However, in game situations, when the uniform goes on, statistics count, wins and losses are at stake and peers and scouts are watching, this environment tends to invite a lot more “variables”.  Because things begin to matter, players seem to be more vulnerable to focusing on the consequences of their actions, rather than the actions themselves.  And these “variables” can bring elements that didn’t exist in the practice environment, like stress, tension, distractions and over thinking.

In the case of a Pitcher, these variables may include: the “consequences of my next pitch”, “thinking about what may happen or what did happen”, “worrying how my coaches/teammates are judging me”, “who’s in the stands”, “statistics”, “mechanics” and so on.  These variables are countless and have nothing to do with a pitchers ultimate goal — to Identify what his or her Process (approach) is, Commit to it and Trust it.

Constant Versus Variables
The only time you see obstacles is when you take your eyes off of your focus

Whereas consequences and results can have countless “variables” the Process is more of a “constant” — it is a few, predetermined components that each individual pitcher identifies as their key to executing their best pitch possible.

For example, the following basic elements illustrate what a typical pitchers Process could look like: 1) Take a Deep Breath, 2) Look for a Focal Point (Intent), 3) Have a simple mechanical cue, and 4) Attack the Focal Point (Commit).  Because these four elements (in this example) are both tactical and knowable it will tend to be very relaxing to the mind.  Also, because they are constants, ANYTHING else that may come up in a pitchers mind outside of these constants (e.g. the future or past, the consequences or results of their action), can now be considered a “variable”.  Thus, your Process keeps things simple — it is based on a few predetermined elements that you have identified as putting you in the best position possible to execute your most ideal pitch;  elements that are intrinsically motivated, repeatable,  and independent of the variables going on around you.

The beauty of having this Process Oriented plan in place is that whatever components you choose, they are yours and they are knowable.  Again, it is a relief (and advantageous) to the mind to know that there are just a few constants in place that can be relied on rather than having to worry about innumerable “variables” that may come up in game situations.

Conversely, without a Process in place for the mind to focus on pitchers may be vulnerable to over thinking simply because baseball has so much “dead time” (30 seconds between pitches, 30 minutes between at-bats), and because it’s a statistics driven sport (e.g. Batting Average/ERA).  It’s probably not unusual for players to focus on things in game situations like, “how many hits do I have”, “how many innings have I thrown”, “what inning is it”, “what’s the score”, “where’s my batting average or era at now”, and so on.  Dead time and Statistics are two factors that can put players in a vulnerable position in game situations.  And performing independent of “thoughts and statistics” could be seen as quite challenging — thoughts that may have nothing to do with a players ideal approach or Process — thoughts that have nothing to do with putting a player in the best position possible to execute their plan.

Alan Jaeger has consulted with several high school/college programs including UCLA, Arizona and Cal State Fullerton, and MLB Organizations including the Texas Rangers, Los Angeles Angels and Cleveland Indians.  For more information about Jaeger Sports and their products (“Thrive On Throwing 2” DVD or Digital Download, J-Bands and Mental Training Book, “Getting Focused, Staying Focused”), please visit their website at www.jaegersports.com or call 310-665-0746.  You may also download additional articles/videos at http://www.jaegersports.com/press_articles.php/, and Youtube, keyword jaeger sports.  Twitter: @jaegersports

Coaches, A Little Common Sense Please!

By John O’Sullivan

“My 8 year old had 6 days of soccer last week!”

“My 11 year old’s coach said he could not play on any other soccer teams except his. No futsal with his friends, no indoor, nothing but this team.”

“My 13 year old was told that if he did not commit to play Fall baseball, on top of spring and summer ball, the high school coaches would hold it against him come tryouts next year.

These are all actual emails and notes I have received from parents regarding the pressure to commit to a single sport, and a single team. This pressure was placed on them by coaches who should know better! That’s right coaches, we should know better than to think that we can force kids to love our sport, demand that they give up everything else to pursue a single activity, and threaten them with future exclusion for, gasp, having more than one activity they are interested in. It’s time for us to grow up!

I say us because I used to think this way. I am a coach. I face the same issues with over-committed, over-scheduled, and exhausted kids as you do. I look around when half my team is missing from practice because they are running cross country, and fight back the urge to take out my frustration on the players that are actually present! I know how it feels. But our kids need us to act like adults. They need us to keep some perspective. They need us to provide wise counsel, but then let them be kids.

How can we do this? Well first, how about what NOT to do.

Adding more to their schedule, and demanding unrealistic and harmful commitments from young athletes is NOT the way to do it. You don’t create love of the game through fear; you create it through enjoyment. You don’t ask 8-12 year olds to play one sport exclusively. You encourage them to try multiple activities, and you become such an amazing coach that they love your sport the best, and they want to be there. Then you give them some time away, so they are begging to come back, and can’t wait for your team to start up again. You create an environment that promotes love of the game, enjoyment of sport, and an embrace of struggle and failure as part of the learning process. You educate your athletes and their parents.

The best science shows us that single sport commitment at a young age leads to double the risk of injury, a much higher rate of burnout, and a large number of athletes who quit before you ever know whether they will be any good or not. There is a five fold increase in shoulder and elbow injuries in young baseball and softball players. Orthopedics are seeing massive increases in overuse injuries because of year round, single sport competition. We have organizations that cut kids at age 8 and 9, as if somehow you can predict whether a kid will make it at that age. You cannot.

You cannot force a child to love a sport. And love of a sport, in my opinion, is equally important as talent, coaching, and deliberate practice in determining whether an athlete will compete at the next level. Unless their desire to play matches the effort needed to succeed, they will never make the commitment necessary to get to the next level.

Coaches, I am not throwing you under the bus here. You should not have to run practices with half your players absent. I think it is highly appropriate to let parents know at the outset of a season what your realistic, expected commitment is. Those expectations should align with developmentally, age appropriate guidelines issued by your sport’s governing body. For instance, US Soccer recommends an 8 year old have two 75 minutes practices a week, plus a 40 minute game. Certainly not three practices, a makeup game, and 4 tournament games in a week, as one dad told me his daughter had.

I also think it is imperative that children who are balancing multiple activities in the same season are monitored closely for overuse and exhaustion. Parents and coaches need to be on the same page in terms of balancing commitments, and enforcing mandatory rest on players. I remember once I had a team of 13 year old elite soccer girls, who were training 3x a week for soccer, and playing 1-2 games on the weekend. Then I found out that 12 of them were also running cross country five days a week before soccer. Some of them had not had a day off in 4 weeks. No wonder they all were limping through training, and icing their knees afterwards.  This was not healthy commitment to multiple sports; it was over-commitment and harmful.

Should a kid be thrown off the team in elementary school for not making every practice or game, or not get to play in games because they missed a session? Of course not. Is it fair to let them know that the team has standards, and that the players who are making the commitment might play more, and might improve faster. Sure, that makes sense to me. This puts the ball in the kids court, so to speak. As long as your standards are applied equally and fairly (you cannot let your best player miss and then not apply them, while applying them to all the other kids) than you are teaching kids a valuable lesson: you get out what you put in.

Here is my final appeal to my colleagues in the coaching business. Whether we are volunteers or professionals, we are the gatekeepers for youth sports. We are the mom or dad that so many kids are lacking these days. We are supposed to know the latest in science, best practices, and long term athletic development. Are you following them?

Our words and actions have a tremendous impact on kids, as we are in a position of great trust. Those words and actions can stick with them forever, and it can be your words that helps a young man grow up, or a young woman deal with tough times. Your words will be passed on to their kids some day. Are you choosing them wisely?

Have you ever thought about what your athletes will say about you?

Will they consider you a person of positive significance in their lives?

Or will they consider you the one who made them quit by forcing them to act like adults, to over commit and over train? Are you the one taking the “play” out of “playing” sports?

I hope you will join all of us at the Changing the Game Project and give sports back to our kids. Choose the hard right, rather than the easy wrong, and don’t force kids to choose a single sport at too young an age. Stand up to parents who are harming their kids by stealing choice from kids, and stealing their sports education by focusing on winning over development.

Yes, they are your customer, but the customer is not always right. Sometimes he does not know what is right. But you should. You must. You are a coach. Make sure you act like one, for your kids’ sake!

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.”

Things My Mother Never Said (Part 2)

By Tony Earp

As a soccer coach, I hear a lot of things said by parents to me or their kids that my mom never said to me growing up. Below is a sample of comments I hear all the time. As a coach, I cringe every time I hear them. Maybe because I never heard them growing up from my mom.

“My child should play in a different position.”
I came home from a game when I was 13 and told my mom that I think I should be playing forward. Up until that season, I had always played forward and did very well. This coach however felt I was better in the midfield. When I expressed my frustration to my mom, she politely listened but did not give me her opinion or express concern about me playing the new position. My team was having a hard time scoring goals and I was certain I could make more of an impact playing as a forward where I can score more goals versus playing in the midfield. I added the fact that I did not feel as comfortable in the midfield as I did as a forward.

When my mom got tired of hearing me complain about my position with the team, she said something that I will never forget. She cut me off in mid-complaint and sternly said, “Are you a good player?” Stunned by the question, I stuttered, “y-ea.” She moved to eye level with me and said, “Then it should not matter where you play. If you are really that good, you can be great anywhere on the field. If you can’t, then you have more work to do.”

Again, my mom took my complaint that I was being cheated out of playing my best by my coach’s decision and turned it right around on me. Her point was not subtle and quick to the point. I was an upset teenager by my mom’s lack of support and apathetic attitude towards my displeasure with the team, but deep down, I knew she was right. Although not easy to accept and it meant more work for me, I was ultimately in control of how well I played. With a slight change in my attitude and a refocus back on what I can do to improve, I did what was necessary to find success in the new position.

It should be noted I played center mid in college.

“My child should have made that team.”
There were several occasions when I was a youth player that I was not selected for a team. There were times I know I did not deserve to be on the team, but there were other situations where I knew the coaches made a mistake or I was overlooked in the process. Although the disappointment was tough to bear at times, I know it helped me deal with adversity later on in life.

When I would vent to my mom, she was a great sounding board and she allowed me to get out everything I needed to say to let out my frustration with not making the team. She was very supportive and always tried to make me feel better. But, she NEVER told me I should have made the team.

My mom would tell me I am a good player and I worked very hard during training, but she never told me that I got looked over, it was not fair, or some other player was wrongly selected over me. All she told me was “next time, do more to make sure they HAVE to take you.” Again, although deep down she may have felt I did get over looked or it was “political”, she never let me know that. She felt it was more important for me to view it as a challenge to work harder the next time around and continue to get better.

My mom could have complained to the coaches and pointed out how her son played for this team or was much better than this player. My mom could have accused the coaches of taking players they “liked” or “knew” from their own teams. My mom could have never let me tryout again in protest to the gross injustice suffered by her son. But my mom never did any of that. Was she unsupportive? Was she not sticking up for her son?

In actuality, I think my mom was looking out for me. She wanted me to learn how to deal with disappointment and respond in a way that would help me not just in soccer but with other challenges I would face in my life. As we all know, life is not fair and at times we do not get what we probably deserve. Many respond by just pointing blame and deciding not to every try again because it will most likely end up with the same result. Others decide to work harder and use what they learned from failing to their advantage the next time around. Which one are you? If you are the latter, you should probably pick up the phone and thank your parents.

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

Another letter about playing time

Below is a note we recently received from a parent who is distressed at the playing time their daughter received. There are many questions we have such as, is this a competitive team or a recreation team and was there discussion about playing time prior to the season? It also seems like perhaps the amount of crying that occurred might be a symptom of more than simply an unjust coach. We hope to hear more on this situation and will post an update if we do.

My daughter for the 1st time in her life wanted to join a team sport.  She has been at all the basketball practices.

It is 5th and 6th grade girls.  It is apparent what girls are better.  And they have been working with a few others that are new to the game or rusty.  During the practices he scrimmages them all and then there are times when the rusty kids just sit on the benches.

  First game was last night.  5 of the girls played like 98% of the game the rusty girls played 2% and 2 girls never got off the bench.  My daughter was one of them. Sitting there til the 4th quarter the realization came over her that she was not going to play and started crying. I went by the team and said out loud, tell the coach you wanna play.  She did by nothing came of it.  It was not only heart breaking to watch but also pissed that several of us got off work early , trampled thru traffic, just to see her sit on the bench.

  Later when she was crying after the game, I said to stop crying there is time for that later (in the car) that she needs to congratulate the other player.  Another mom comforted her probably cuz she thought I was harsh.

We got in the car and she cried. I don’t want her to be a poor sport either but I certainly can share in her frustration.

Here are my thought about the whole thing.

My daughter want to practice and learn & be a better player.  Being a part of a team I think is great for anyone.  I would imagine that while the girls are starting out in 5th grade it is an opportunity for a coach to help every player be their best.

You can imagine that having a team player sit the entire game when the excitement and anticipation is high, how much that can just rob them of their self-esteem.  This is my number one reason I’m excited she joined.  This coach has all the power to make or break her 1st impression of a team sport.  We can all say it’s about being ON a team, but we can all agree it’s a different feeling when you keep sitting there.  I read the definition of a coach and that is to develop his team, nowhere does it say to win a game.  I can imagine that 1 or 2 minutes of putting her in would damage the game.  We lost anyways EVEN with the best player playing the entire game.  The kids aren’t applying for a scholarship and the coach is not making money or changing he=is status, maybe only his ego and trophy is at stake.  Since when is winning the most important thing for  5th or 6th  grade.  I think its ridicules.   I don’t expect him to play her much, but to sit them there just says to them and the other parents, those kids just aren’t good enough!

I think a great coach doesn’t just play his best players, but he helps players be their personal best!

There’s a meeting at 4 today with the coach and parents. Do you have time to offer any advice.  I want to voice my opinion.

I’ve seen some GREAT coaches and they make it about the kids.  They say play your best and have fun.  To me that’s a good coach!

Mo Cheeks National Anthem

There’s a good chance you’ve already seen this video, but even so, its worth another look to brighten the day. When 13 year-old Natalie Gilbert forgot the words to the National Anthem, Portland Trailblazers assistant coach Maurice Cheeks came to the rescue. Watch the heartwarming video here. Of the moment, Cheeks said, “I was brought up the right way by my mother and father. We didn’t have the best life, but they instilled in us to treat people the right way. That’s all it is. It’s no secret. It’s no recipe to it. It’s just treating people correctly, and if you do it correctly, it’ll come back to you.”

What impact would two more hours of PE each week have on kids?

According to a Swedish study, brought to us by our partners, PHIT America.org, two more hours of Phys Ed each week doubles a child’s chances for academic success. Read the details here. The bottom line is a healthy body equals a healthy mind!

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