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.

This is the kind of thing we love to read

A friend of ours posted this on Facebook today about an encounter her son and his high school baseball teammates had at a restaurant with a Major Leaguer. It is too good not to pass along. Hat’s off, Mike Kemp!

A fun story to share..Christian and some of his high school baseball teammates were having dinner at BJ’s after their game tonight – and…San Diego Padre, Matt Kemp, was there too. When the boys went to pay their bill – of course, asking for separate checks, the waitress told them that their dinner had been paid for…by an anonymous guest. The boys figured it out and when they went over to thank Mr. Kemp – he just said, “Why didn’t you guys order dessert?”  In the words of the boys: “Just about the coolest thing ever.”

Inactivity Kills More Than Obesity

This is a must-read from our partners at PHIT America.org. Nearly all of us need to exercise more. For some of us, even a little would be a great start. Kids and adults alike need to put down their electronic devices, get up and move around. Cold weather is no excuse! Read the study done by the BBC and get motivated to be healthier!

Friday funny from In the Bleachers

It’s almost the weekend! Here’s a chuckle to get you into your Friday mood. Steve Moore’s In the Bleachers courtesy of Go Comics.

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